Feature: The Delta King’s Gambit, Karl Broberg’s Acquisition of the Toomey Training Center

A perfect mix of sand and silt from the nearby Sabine River ... the 5F training track at the former Toomey Downs just outside Vinton, Louisiana is now the property of Karl Broberg's Racing Stable.
A perfect mix of sand and silt from the nearby Sabine River ... the 5F training track at the former Toomey Downs just outside Vinton, Louisiana is now the property of Karl Broberg's Racing Stable.

It’s an early Tuesday morning, and the calendar is raring to flip to December. Abel Ramirez, a gruff-looking fellow who fancies the look of a beard, a stevedore, and a carefully chosen lobe ornament, has his stopwatch on his Smartphone out. He could be confused with a lead longshoreman, timing out the loading of a vessel that is about to raise ship. But no, he is atop an elevated stand for a much different reason on what is a sunny day … an expertise of the equine kind. As an integral assistant trainer for the Broberg Racing Stables, make no mistake about it, he’s a good one. One of those professionals who works long hours, while the rest of us have found a pillow, Ramirez sets a high bar. When it comes to industriousness, he readies those that are under his care for their next race. The economically-verbal “man on campus” is part college R.A., mixed with a penchant for everything from scheduling to employee management. Coupled with these attributes is a heavy dosage of horse whispering and handling. Though each week begins filled with a host of issues ... Ramirez has poise in spades. As a string of runners come his way, the queue, who formed nicely inside the well-lit barn, are ready to stretch their legs. A new training track awaits …

Karl Broberg has had his share of “gambits” (that’s a chess reference, if you didn’t know) over the years, but none of those moves were more crucial than his decision to purchase the former Toomey Training Center just down the road from Delta Downs. As the all-time winningest trainer at that track just outside of Vinton, Louisiana, he has collected title after title at the place, establishing himself as a leading conditioner in the region. Over the years, the mercurial Broberg, who is unabashed when it comes to everything from Twitter rants to winner’s circle poses, has expanded his empire of horse racing across the Southwest Circuit. Regularly, you will find entries of his sporting his own silks of End Zone Athletics at places as diverse as Oaklawn, Fair Grounds, Prairie Meadows, Remington Park, any of the NYRA courses, Sam Houston, and of course, Delta Downs and Lone Star Park, the latter being near his home.

Broberg Racing Stables in the Toomey Barn readies one Tuesday morning for training ... new lights adorn the facility, along with a number of other improvements.
Broberg Racing Stables in the Toomey Barn readies one Tuesday morning for training ... new lights adorn the facility, along with a number of other improvements.

Not only is Broberg a trainer with deep experience, he also is an avowed horseplayer. In other words, he understands how the game works—inside and out; you need every edge … every advantage you can get, because when the bitterness of the dregs need consumption, and they will … down the hatch, it’s medicine time. For most of his career, if you ask around about Broberg, folks that know “of him” will probably, more often than not, dub him the sobriquet, “King of Claiming.” That’s not derogative, but there are some “experts” in the world of Thoroughbred racing that would consider it as such. When I spoke to the Texas-based trainer concerning this moniker, he offered a characteristic response, “Who cares what people think?” Don’t mistake that directness to be blanketed across Broberg’s persona … he does care … quite a bit actually, when it comes to his business. That’s why when he heard that the Toomey Training Center (aka Toomey Downs) was up for sale, it was more than just an opportunity, it was the chance to put his barn into a whole new league. This was a gambit …  

Just off Highway 109, inside the Louisiana border with Texas, northbound takes you just past the local VFW, and the popular Insane Sausages. You can tell that the landscape was recently tortured by tornadic activity, and some locals lost everything, while others survived without a scrape. Just to the left, a little way down the road is a red sign that reads “Carril de Campeones” (Champion’s Lane). It marks a site with a history … this is what was known as Toomey Downs. Back in the late 1960s, when horse racing was still at the top of its game, the Wimberly Family wanted to develop a racetrack in Vinton that would be the envy of the region. All sorts conditioned their horses onsite back then, including James “Sweet” Hodges, who now in his 80s, is still going strong today at the Fair Grounds. As for the Wimberly’s plans, the Louisiana Racing Commission considered Toomey as a possibility. In the end, they chose to go with Lee Berwick’s idea, and that became Delta Downs in 1973. Toomey’s fame disgressed over the years to holding everything from match races to cock fights, as a “club” materialized which became a popular spot for a local clientele. Eventually, the scene shifted elsewhere, and that is when a period of disrepair set in.

A quartet heads out on the well-groomed Toomey training track ... under the watchful eye of Abel Ramirez, Bistraya, My Call, King of the Court, and Zcat's Chatain are all being put through their paces.
A quartet heads out on the well-groomed Toomey training track ... under the watchful eye of Abel Ramirez, Bistraya, My Call, King of the Court, and Zcat's Chatain are all being put through their paces.

Minutes away from Delta, a turn on Wimberly Drive off of Highway 190, a slight jog after that, puts you parallel with the stretch of the training track. Broberg bought the facility from Jeff Hebert, a well-known horseman and pinhooker from Louisiana that used the site for his strings. Hebert made numerous improvements to Toomey by putting a new roof on the barn, and making a slew of other updates in and around the some 5 furlongs of the track itself. I toured the property with Mike Franklin, a friendly-sort that isn’t afraid to wear tasseled burgundy loafers into barn where you run the risk of “cutting your foot.” As one of Broberg’s closest advisers and friends, he informed me that, “This is the perfect mix of sand and silt from the Sabine River, and you will not find a more forgiving surface in this region.” Franklin should know … he has a long history of horse breeding, owning, and training in and around Delta.

Broberg relies on him to be his “eyes and ears.” Listening to the two banter back and forth is an education, as they talk “stats,” debate stable moves, and tell what could be termed some “good natured fibs.” Back in 2004, the pair met and formed a bond that continues to this day. Not far down Foreman Road, which is just south of the Boyd Gaming-owned Delta Downs (they bought it in the 1990s for $100 Million) is what Broberg and the team call “The Farm.” Formerly owned by Franklin, he sold it to the leading trainer after a series of tough years in the breeding business. To hear the Spring, Texas native tell it, who once owned a car dealership (and yes, he employs the two-handed shake on cue), “I tried like hell at it with some great stock, but the realities of the situation dictated that I just couldn’t make it.” Broberg also tried to make a go of it, but as he also lamented, “I couldn’t make it work either.” Still, the facility is impressive with a main house that overlooks an expansive barn area, and you would be hard-pressed to find stalls built with 3-inch concrete like these—to quote John Hammond of Jurassic Park fame, “spared no expense.” Equipped with a pool for exercising, and pasture land, it is the perfect spot for Broberg’s moves.

The string returns from training ... Toomey will serve as the perfect location for Broberg's venture into the purchase and breaking of young horses.
The string returns from training ... Toomey will serve as the perfect location for Broberg's venture into the purchase and breaking of young horses.

What “The Farm” lacked though was a training track, and that is where Toomey comes in. For years, Broberg has wanted to move into buying and breaking younger horses. It is the one area that he has not expanded into, and there is intent and purpose when it comes to this new direction. “Buying this new property enables us to do anything that any powerhouse and prestigious outfit can do when it comes to competing at the highest levels,” he expressed with confidence. “I think in this business you’re either going backwards or forwards,” added Franklin. I asked Broberg if he intended to change the name of the new facility. He quickly responded, “No, absolutely not … there is history there, and the community has always known it as Toomey; the name has significance.” Plans are already well underway …

When the team moved part of their headquarters to Wimberly Drive a few months back, they already had a new roof on the barn … Hebert did that, but there were some other significant upgrades that were needed. With little in the way of power, some remaining drainage issues, and with no suitable location for staff to reside onsite, Broberg and Franklin set to work making improvements. The current occupancy level is 54 stalls, but expansion is imminent, as 30 more individual accommodations are planned. With 79 acres of land present, there are a number of options. A fixed dormitory that can house up to 12 people was a recent addition, as was LED lighting for the entire barn area. Broberg spoke enthusiastically about the importance of boarding facilities to be “open air,” and “full of light.” Over the years he said, that makes for a happy and healthy bunch of runners. “Many barns can be dark and dreary places, and we are committed to these animals,” he said.

Karl Broberg (left) and Mike Franklin (right) discussing members of their barn who are entered at Delta Downs ... the pair have known one another for almost 2 decades.
Karl Broberg (left) and Mike Franklin (right) discussing members of their barn who are entered at Delta Downs ... the pair have known one another for almost 2 decades.

The Toomey Training Center also provides Broberg with yet another spot to showcase the very best Thoroughbreds in his midst, and those that have yet to arrive. This is a niche location, an entry point, that will hopefully attract new ownership to the fold. Broberg spoke frankly once again when he said, “Look, we have to be pragmatic about our decision-making,” he argued, “I think that what we are doing is selling the dream of horse ownership, and that can be a pretty vague outcome.” Trying to balance rhetoric and reality is always a fine line when it comes to equine care and development. Broberg, working with owners like Jerry Namy, who he calls “incredibly gracious,” makes this business an absolute joy. Developing an edge is one of the toughest aspects though, especially when hard calls have to be made. “When it comes to breaking horses, there are 2 types of approaches, one is tough and the other is less so,” admitted Broberg, “I ascribe to the former because I think it makes for stronger stock, you have to work them, in order to get them ready.” What the conditioner is after is more diversity, and moves this past summer have already seen the Stables expanding into new areas. “We went to Lone Star Park and yearlings we purchased were good, and we came out of there with some excellent acquisitions,” said Franklin. Those soon-to-be 2-yr-olds will form the core of Broberg’s new venture, with their new home at Toomey.

Top class ... Abel Ramirez saddling Sucre just before running recently at Delta Downs ... He oversees Broberg's operation, and is an essential part of the operation at Toomey.
Top class ... Abel Ramirez saddling Sucre just before running recently at Delta Downs ... He oversees Broberg's operation, and is an essential part of the operation at Toomey.

When I asked the proverbial question if his intent was to “Keep up with the Joneses,” aka the Steve Asmussen’s of the world, he said, “You know I am not trying to emulate anyone; instead, I am doing something that makes sense, and allows us to ship anywhere we need to.” That type of forthright answer is exactly what you get with Broberg. His independent spirit is something you can feel when you visit Toomey. Like Mike Franklin told me, in-step with his unabashed employer, “People aren’t going to be impressed with sand and silt from the Sabine River that forms the best track in this part of the world, what they want is winning connections, and that’s what we are pursuing to the nth degree here.” Now, with the tools of the trade expanding, including an onsite “Equi-sizer” that can quarter several runners at a time, and a gate for workouts, the Broberg Racing Stables appear poised to soar to even greater heights as 2022 dawns.

With a pair of locations within 5 minutes of the Delta Downs Racetrack, Abel Ramirez oversees an expanding outfit that is rolling along. His influence is both impressive and directionally upward in its trajectory. After all, Broberg runners are looking to take another training title home at the Boyd facility, and they just sent a string up to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the Oaklawn Meet, which just opened with an all-new expanded schedule. Clearly, Broberg’s “hub” allows for spokes to reach in several directions, and this will be even more evident once his new crop of runners is broken and ready to go. Not only will this new enterprise place the trainer in a new category of competition, but it also should further improve the experience at Delta Downs, a track that does not get much in the way of distinction. “Toomey is the edge we need,” pronounced Broberg, “I think it will be abundantly clear just how much it is going to exceed our expectations.” That’s an edict we should all note … the ultimate Delta King’s Gambit is afoot.

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