11/23/2011 5:05PM

Back at Yonkers, Lou Pena must start over


Any organization or business goes through trials and tribulations during its existence. Staying on top for an extended period in any walk of life is a tough task. Trainer Lou Pena maintained one of the top stables in the country for nearly two years before he was banned from Yonkers Raceway in August of this year. The eviction caused a 75 percent reduction in the nunber of horses he trained, and with the exodus his success story hit the skids in a hurry.

Lisa PhotoTrainer Lou Pena has been given permission to enter his horses at Yonkers Raceway.

Three months later, to no fanfare whatsoever, Pena was given permission to return to Yonkers Raceway. He entered his first horse on Saturday, November 26, one appropriately named Eviction Notice N. Unfortunately the horse had to be scratched due to some muscle tightness. He plans on entering more starting with the program carded on December 1.

The question remains: Can Pena rebuild a training empire? One that dominated the sport with a win rate hovering at 30 percent.

"It just takes a minute to get back in the business," said Pena, who is training about 25 horses; down from a high of 100 to 110 during his two-year run. "I'm sure I'll get some calls asking me if I can take a horse or two. [Owners] never lose the faith; they know who you are. Guys (certain trainers) don't wind up with the best horses by mistake."

Many of Pena's owners hailed from California and have taken over conditioning duties. Gilbert Garcia-Herrera, a veteran horseman from the left coast, immediately became the listed trainer on his horses after the exile, and Pena says he does not expect to get those horses back. Jennifer Sabot (Pena's girlfriend) also began training her own horses over the last few months. Though she appeared to come out of nowhere, Pena says she had been trying to get her license since January of this year.

"She had to take a written and oral test," said Pena. "It was a slow process; between the USTA paperwork and waiting for her worker's compensation."

Pena said that Sabot will not hand the lines back to Pena now that the ban at Yonkers has been lifted.

"Why would she take me when she can keep it all to herself and do a good job," said Pena. "We are together now, but no one knows what the future may bring and she has to protect herself."

Pena admitted to feeling like the "red-headed stepchild" during his banishment from Yonkers. They never gave him a reason for their actions and he did not ask any questions when they gave him the "go ahead" to come back.

"It was a long time coming," said Pena. "I'm just glad to be back in business."

Now with his work life back in order he will have to "reinvent" himself, though he feels no ill will for the obstacles he has faced.

"I didn't come here (to the east coast) for the season, I came for a reason. I wanted to get a better life for my family. Since the first day I came across the border it was a struggle, but you can't be mad at the world because they put you through another test," said the Mexican native Pena.

Pena remains confident that his barn will return to glory and he does not back down from the accusations that he must be "using something" to win as often as he does.

"Guys who have been caught in the past disappear; I'm still here," said Pena, who remarked that the last positive drug test on one of his horses was more than two years ago.

"I just work hard, come in early, stay here late," Pena said. "I'm not going to wind up with six or seven titles because I'm lucky. Who has a magic potion that lasts that long? Doesn't the magic wear off or explode after a while like in the cartoons? [New Jersey officials] sat in my barn for almost a month and a half and came up with nothing. I just kept wondering to myself, `How much did that cost?' Wouldn't that money have been better spent somewhere else?"

Most of Pena's wins at Yonkers came with the help of leading driver George Brennan. Pena admitted he might have trouble keeping Brennan loyal due to his smaller stable size, but it is worth noting that Brennan was slated to drive Eviction Notice N on Saturday before the late scratch.

"I hope I can (keep Brennan). I know it will be give and go with him having the choice of good horses from (Mark) Kesmodel, (Casie) Coleman and others," Pena surmised.

For now Pena must go back to the drawing board, building his stable one horse at a time until he returns to the top of the heap.

"I know if I go to work I'm going to get results," he concluded.

jay More than 1 year ago
my xmas list BAN PENA FOREVER
RichieD More than 1 year ago
Derrick: Your article should have begun with the question "WHY?" as in: "Why is Pena allowed back at Yonkers?" Been around this game 45 years. Everyone I know recognizes that Pena is harness racing's equivalent of Oscar Barrera. Everyone! Bad for the game in so many ways..........
TM More than 1 year ago
I would also use the name Richard Dutrow in addition to Mr. Barrera. As dirty as they come.
Roger Haynos More than 1 year ago
I have never seen Pena go lights out with a trotter.......only pacers. Trotters cannot be given all the enhancements via syringe...........a really good horseman once told me that great trainers train both gaits equally as well. Lesser trainers train pacers only because all the equipment and pre-racing allow them an edge. Want to get Pena under control........make it mandatory he train horses of both gaits in order to race at Yonkers and then look at his stats for each gait.
JOHN More than 1 year ago
BTW.......... If i can recall his TROTTERS were nothing special. SHANNON DiANTONIO who used to do the commentary at CHESTER gave him a trotter to train (i forget the name). The animal raced poorly. So, while i never thought about this angle it makes sense
billy o More than 1 year ago
good to see Lou Pena back. His ban was ridiculous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Shelly B More than 1 year ago
Racetrack management does not care about the bettor at their tracks...what difference does it make to the racetrack owners if a guy is drugging their horses as long as they get races to fill and parimutuel pools to be bet into. Track owners are part of the problem.
carmela ceraolo More than 1 year ago
wrong, management cares, ever notice how low the pools are with brennan racing, the same as with pena. low odds, low purse money.
ML/NJ More than 1 year ago
Wow. Sounds like a lot of the guys here are those who bet those five and six to one shots running against Pena. Banning a guy just for winning is absurd.
jay More than 1 year ago
Bernie Madoff was a winner. The defense rests
kram More than 1 year ago
Curt, you old cannoli- how the hell are you? Yeah I just love all horses. I'm an old Freehold, Liberty Bell, Yonkers and Roosevelt guy. Back in the days when Roosevelt was drawing 50,000 for the International Trot. This guy Pena makes Dutrow look like an angel except Pena ain't been caught yet. Only a matter of time. If you ain't got Niatross you ain't got horse (my harness side). I'll write more later. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving my friend!
gus More than 1 year ago
I have known Louie for 10 years. I know all about giving horses stuff just the same as the thouroubred biz. The bafferts, oneills, mullins all had the best enhancing stuff in the market and started to get better horses. Did it hurt the animals I dont think so but it did raise their %. What I can tell you about Louie is, if he has got the best stuff on the market ( I dont know ) it is within the rules. Also I know he would give the shirt off his back to help anyone. I remember when he left for new york with one horse and very little money and I was one of the people who said to him, go and prove to yourself that you are a very talanted horseman. He is one of the nicest humans I have ever met.
David Smith More than 1 year ago
I have known lou Pena since he was driving positron at Los AL he is a genuine man very good person,
jay More than 1 year ago
PLEASE MR ROONEY , If you are reading these comments , you can see the majority of the fans applauded your move of asking Pena to leave. It was just the right thing to do. Please dont let the fox back into the hen house.
Curt V. More than 1 year ago
Kram, Where in the heck you been ? Been a long time, no ? I didn't know you were a harness man too..I know what Pena's using...He's using Seattle Slew bone marrow tissue.........That's it... "When you got Slewster, you got horse...."....TTYL my man........