11/23/2011 4:05PM

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.