Trainer Jack Sisterson may be best known in his adopted America – but should True Timber win the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park this weekend, the County Durham native could become pretty famous ‘back home’ too.
Sisterson, 36, arrived in Louisville on a football scholarship, and now finds himself one of the rising stars of US racing.
True Timber helped raise his profile when winning the Cigar Mile by five and a half lengths – and if he runs well again on Saturday in what will be his third appearance in the Pegasus, his trainer has plans to send him to Saudi Arabia.
“I came out on a football scholarship – and I’m still here!” said Sisterson.
“My family trained point-to-pointers – so growing up, my two main interests were football and racing.
“I had a passion for both and fortunately I was able to study what I loved. I was on the equine programme at the University of Louisville, got a summer job with Todd Pletcher at Churchill Downs and played football at the same time.
“Once I graduated I spent some time with Doug O’Neill in California. Before I wanted to be a footballer I wanted to be a jockey – but I’m 6ft 2in, so that dream soon died, but I’ve been very fortunate with the opportunities I’ve had in America.
“I was lucky enough to know the right people at university to open doors and point me in the right direction. I’ve started at the bottom and had to work my way up. But I owe thanks to the people who helped me start at the bottom – and with the will to do it, you can achieve anything.”
True Timber is a rarity in racing, an entire seven-year-old competing at the highest level, but there is no doubt he took his form to new heights last time out by winning his first Grade One.
“It was a career best last time out in the Cigar Mile. He came to me in great condition from Kiaran McLaughlin (who retired). I just need to stay out of True Timber’s way and keep him happy,” added Sisterson.
“Running him in that was always a year-end goal, because his previous runs in the race were very competitive. We thought if we got him there fresh and aimed for that – even despite his age, we felt he could be involved.
“Normally horses of his calibre have won several Grade Ones and gone off to stud – but Calumet (Farm, owners) are of the belief that if the horses are well, run them. When I was working for Doug we had Nyquist, who had Gun Runner behind him in the Kentucky Derby.
“Nyquist was retired that year – which is understandable given the money they can earn at stud – but Gun Runner won nearly everything the year after, including the Classic and the Pegasus. You can’t blame them when they can earn so much, though.
“True Timber just loves to train and run – you don’t want to take that away from him, but it’s thanks to the owner for allowing us to do it.”
While Sisterson is confident True Timber is at the peak of his powers, there is one thing he cannot control and which could affect his performance.
“The only bad run he’s had for us was at Belmont when he drew the inside post. He hates being on the inside – even in training if you ask him to do something he doesn’t want to he shuts himself off, but we found that out early,” said Sisterson.
“That’s just horses telling you, (and) you have to listen. He’s progressed nicely because of that.
“Everything is in place for the Pegasus. We had a plan heading to the Cigar Mile, and True Timber executed it very well – he probably exceeded expectations. We changed his training a touch, because we’ve never run him over this far, but he’s taken it well.”
Should True Timber strike gold in Florida then he will automatically qualify for the Saudi Cup, worth $20m.
“I’ve been looking at the Saudi race, and there seems to be a lot of grass horses going for it, and you wonder how they handle the dirt,” added Sisterson.
“There’s Charlatan for Bob Baffert – and it might be a case of who finishes second, because he looks way above average.
“Everything has to fall into place, though. If True Timber runs well he’ll definitely be on the Saudi plane. As he’s out there, it’s not far to Dubai either – but we’ll take it once race at a time.
“We think if he gets a good draw he’s got a good chance. But I’m not going to lie – if he’s stuck on the inside, he’ll probably be up against it. I’m not a big believer in luck, but we might need some to get an outside draw.
“If he’s on the inside and he doesn’t run his race then we’re still fortunate to have him, and keep our fingers crossed he gets an outside position next time.”