ENGINEER-TURNED-TRAINER JEFF GREENHILL SCORES 500TH CAREER WIN
FLORENCE, Ky. (Dec. 22, 2016) – Chemical engineer-turned-Thoroughbred trainer Jeff Greenhill, 61, scored his 500th career win Thursday when Stay On Shore won the seventh race at Turfway Park. Greenhill’s first career win also came at Turfway, in March 1996 with Count Sparks.
“We had a couple of seconds, but now it’s finally over,” Greenhill said about the milestone win. “Now I won’t have to worry about it again until 1,000.”
Abel Lezcano was aboard Stay On Shore for owner John Naparlu.
An Alabama native and 1979 graduate of Auburn University, Greenhill earned a substantial income as a field engineer for the Tennessee Valley Authority in Muscle Shoals, Ala. By 1988 he was a department manager overseeing 50 employees and a $20 million budget. At age 38 he left that comfortable life to pursue a career as a horseman.
To the obvious question—why exchange a secure and profitable career for the vagaries of Thoroughbred racing?—Greenhill has a ready answer.
“There’s no winner’s circle in chemical engineering,” he said. “In this game you know you’re alive. It might be going great or you might be hurting, but at least you know you’re alive.
“My last year as an engineer, I paid taxes on $115,000,” he said. “My first year as a trainer, I paid taxes on $7,500. Has it been what I thought it would be? Absolutely, it has. It has to. You can’t get up at four in the morning seven days a week and not love it.
“The only vacations I’ve had in 20 years have been open heart surgery (in 2013) and funerals,” he said. “I guess I should be more hands-off by now, but it’s hard to walk away from these horses. I love coming in and seeing them every morning.”
Before he made the leap to training, Greenhill first owned several Quarter Horses and dabbled in team roping but, as a friend pointed out, trophies and ribbons don’t add up to a living, and Greenhill turned to Thoroughbreds. He initially ventured into pinhooking, buying two or three weanlings at the November sales and turning them around the following September. In 1992, walking around Keeneland with Ben Walden Sr., he expressed an interest in training. Instead of the laugh Greenhill expected, the old horseman said, “Well, if you’re going to do it, you’d better get started.”
Heeding that advice, Greenhill took early retirement from TVA in April 1994, moved with his wife to Kentucky, and started walking hots for legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
“I figured I could pass the trainer’s test if I studied, but I wanted to know all the work that goes into it,” Greenhill said. After 17 days as a hotwalker, he moved to rubbing horses for Pete Vestal, staying about seven months. In December 1994 he started grooming for Donnie Habeeb. One of his assignments was a filly he also owned, Blondeintheshower, and in a Turfway allowance race in January 1995 she gave Greenhill his first win as an owner.
Greenhill opened his own stable in March 1996 and saddled his first horse at age 41. Now a multiple graded stakes winner, his first stakes win came with Snappy Little Tune in the 1997 Peony Stakes at Hoosier Park.
Greenhill currently has 28 horses in his active stable and another 10 either turned out or training for spring debuts. His staff numbers 14, and during the months when his stable is divided between Belterra Park in Cincinnati and Indiana Grand near Indianapolis, he makes the drive himself to deliver the payroll.
In addition to his milestone 500 wins, Greenhill also has 467 seconds and 424 thirds from 3,283 starts. His purse earnings stand at more than $8.5 million.