12/09/2004 12:00AM

After 45 years, Picou calls it a career

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The three dozen or so victory pictures that adorn the office walls in Belmont Park's Barn 39 will soon be taken down, put in boxes, and shipped to Florida. When unpacked they will serve as lasting memories of the long and distinguished career of trainer Jimmy Picou.

Picou will retire from training Sunday, after he saddles Big Apple Daddy in the $75,000 Damon Runyon Stakes at Aqueduct. It will be the end of a 45-year training career during which Picou won more than 650 races, including Grade 1 stakes such as the Travers, Matron, Man o' War, Turf Classic, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Acorn.

Picou, who turns 71 next month, cited the loss of his major clients over the years for the reason why he chose now to retire. Fred Hooper, a client of Picou's for 33 years, and Marcia Schott, for whom Picou trained 21 years, died in the past few years, and no one has stepped up to fill their shoes.

"In the past we've had people that would have 10 to 12 2-year-olds in the spring, and that's where the hope lies, in the youngsters," said Picou, who is down to five horses. "We had a lot of animals and a lot of good horses. It's not there anymore, for me anyhow. I just figured it's time to retire."

Picou and his wife of 51 1/2 years, Helen, will close on their Malverne, N.Y., home on Wednesday and head to Pembroke Pines, Fla., to be closer to their son and daughter and their families.

A native of Beaumont, Texas, Picou began riding Quarter Horses before the age of 10. At age 15, he switched to Thoroughbreds and won his first race, aboard Miss Maggy at Belmont Park in the fall of 1949. Picou won approximately 200 races as a jockey before his increasing weight forced him to retire.

After working as an assistant trainer to Walter Kelley for six years, Picou opened his own stable in 1960. He trained several nice horses, including Susan's Girl, who was voted champion 2-year-old filly of 1971. Picou trained Susan's Girl for her first six races before Hooper turned her over to his private trainer, John Russell.

In 1981, Picou sent out Willow Hour to upset Pleasant Colony in the Travers. Willow Hour also won the Jim Dandy. One of Picou's favorite horses was Mr. Brick, who ran races in six consecutive weeks as a 3-year-old in 1964 and won three of them. He finished sixth in that year's Kentucky Derby.

In 1996, Picou won three Grade 1 races with Diplomatic Jet, another Hooper homebred. In 1997, Picou won the Hong Kong International with Val's Prince, who also won that year's Turf Classic Invitational.

"Willow Hour's win at the Travers is the best feat as far as I'm concerned," said Picou, who has called Barn 39 his home since 1971. "The other one in Hong Kong was great, but hometown means more than out of town."

In Sunday's Damon Runyon, Picou sends out Big Apple Daddy, who finished second in a one-mile allowance race behind Carminooch, who figures to be the Runyon favorite.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Picou said. "He ran a real good race going a mile, which I was on pins and needles about running a mile."

Picou also hopes to run a maiden named Affluent Appeal on Sunday. Picou said both Affluent Appeal and Big Apple Daddy would be turned over to Joe Catanese, a Florida-based trainer who will have six stalls in New York this winter. Other horses of Picou's have been transferred to Tom Bush and Tom Albertrani.

Strategy heads Exogenous

Strategy, a royally bred Phipps homebred, heads a field of nine 3-year-old fillies entered in Sunday's $60,000 Exogenous, an overnight stakes run at a mile and 70 yards over the inner track.

Strategy is by A.P. Indy out of the Grade 1 winner Educated Risk. She is 2 for 7 in her career and comes of a second-place finish as the 7-5 favorite in a second-level allowance race over Aqueduct's main track.

In her only start around two turns, Strategy finished a fast-closing third behind Paiota Falls and Essence at Saratoga. Essence has since come back to win the Anne Arundel Stakes at Pimlico.

Tax the Queen has won her last two starts by a combined 15 lengths, but she now faces open company for the first time. She is coupled in the wagering with Adriatic Sea.

Our Rite of Spring comes off a 12 3/4-length entry-level allowance win on Nov. 12. Tigi, second to Our Rite of Spring that day, has a win and a second over the inner track. Coco's for Real is a three-time allowance winner shipping in from Philadelphia Park for trainer Ned Allard, who also sends out Dreamadreamforme.

Shake You Down may try Gravesend

Shake You Down bounced back from a last-place finish in the Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on Nov. 20 by winning a five-furlong optional claiming race Wednesday at Pimlico. Now his connections are debating whether to wheel him back in the Grade 3, $100,000 Gravesend Handicap here on Dec. 19.

Shake You Down won last year's Gravesend and followed that with a victory in the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park. Scott Lake, the trainer of Shake You Down, said the decision to run in the Gravesend would be made by owner Robert Cole.

"I'd like to go back in that race ,then head to Gulfstream," Lake said.