07/11/2001 11:00PM

Agosti barn growing in power


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Trainer Tom Agosti was as surprised as anyone when he came out of the winter meet at Tampa Bay in May with a 24 percent win average. It was the first time he had raced in Florida, and the goal was to ready his barn for the Fort Erie season.

"I was just hoping to break even or by some chance only to lose a little bit, but wind up being in good shape," said the trainer, who had observed outfits from Fort Erie and Finger Lakes struggle at Tampa in past years. "But we did very good. We won 12 races and were second about 12 times. We went with seven from here and ended up coming back with 15."

Agosti, 43, a Kenmore, N.Y., native, was a trainer of Standardbreds for 17 years before he abandoned the breed in 1997. Three years earlier he started to take on Thoroughbreds and to compete at Finger Lakes. "The money was deteriorating terribly in the Standardbreds business," said Agosti. "I was based mostly at Buffalo Raceway. We went to The Meadows for a while. We were at Vernon. We were at Yonkers. We raced at them all.

"I have really good owners. They tell me if I want more horses to just say so and they will go and get more. All except one - he still owns two - are ex-Standardbred owners. They converted right over with me."

Although the money situation at Finger Lakes was an improvement, Agosti said he was annoyed that trainers had to concentrate on New York-breds to succeed there. He was drawn to Fort Erie when he was told that slots were in that track's future. And the advice was to move there and get on the ground floor.

Agosti is a rising power. He now has 24 runners in his barn. Going into Saturday's program he boasts 12 winners at the meet for a win percentage of 24 and is in the top five in the standings. Last year he was ranked eighth as the leading trainer. His 21 wins were at a 22 percent clip.

"I was always high-percentage," said Agosti. "Even in Standardbreds. I enter them where they can win. Even if they are lower than they should be. There's nothing more aggravating than coming to the races one day knowing that you have a horse out that can't win. You work all week for nothing."

Toronto, and Woodbine, are not in Agosti's future. He finds the money at Fort Erie decent and the competition easier. "Horses like it better here. Over the years I don't think I've seen a better surface on a track than here, although it's kind of hard right now."

As evidence, Agosti cited the winning performance Tuesday of one of his trainees, Super Blitz: "My horse went five furlongs in 57 and four- fifths. He's a nice little horse, but nothing like that. The track is lightning-fast. I think they will do something about it."

* Sports Flashy tied the course record of 57.20 winning the five-furlong $100,000 Rainbow Connection Stakes Tuesday. The trainer, Earl Barnett bred the runner and sold it as a 2-year-old to his client Bradscot Farms, owned by Irene and Neil McLellan of Oxbridge, Ontario.

* The post position draw for the Prince of Wales Stakes will be held on Wednesday, July 18 at noon. The proceedings will be broadcast live across Canada over The Score cable network. The Prince of Wales, second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown, takes place Sunday, July 22.