06/14/2006 12:00AM

Amescua profitable off claim


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Rene Amescua is one of the better practitioners of the claiming game.

Since Jan. 1, 2005, he has won 24 percent of the time with horses in their first start off a claim. More importantly, from a bettor's perspective, he shows a positive $2.43 return on investment with those horses.

Amescua will send out Colonel Courtney for the first time in Friday's Bay Meadows feature, a $32,000 claimer at six furlongs.

Colonel Courtney, who has been claimed in each of his past three starts, figures strongly in the mix. This is a very tough race, though.

Between them, the race's nine runners have 67 career victories and earnings of more than $1.5 million. Three of the runners have triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, and another has a 99. Seven of the nine have recorded Beyer Figures in the 90's, and the other two have 88 and 86 Beyer bests.

Amescua has a straightforward explanation for why he put down $32,000 for Budget Stable to claim Colonel Courtney on April 28.

"He's won 11 races," he said.

Pragmatico, the probable morning-line favorite who is drawn just outside Colonel Courtney, has 16 victories, and 10-year-old comebacker Boss Ego has 13. Twentythreejaybird has 11 wins himself.

These may not be the best horses on the grounds, but they are some of the gamest.

Colonel Courtney graduated in a straight maiden race and has performed consistently throughout his career, which includes six claims.

Claiming a proven runner such as Colonel Courtney may not require as much work as other claims, but it is a challenge nonetheless.

"If a horse has been doing well, I try to figure out what the other guy did," Amescua said. "It's kind of the philosophy, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' You just try to do what everyone else did."

Amescua jokingly said his strategy with Colonel Courtney was to ask Kent Molinaro, one of the 6-year-old gelding's former trainers, his secrets with the horse.

"When I claim a runner, I see what I can do to help," he said. "It's not that I pay more attention to horses I claim than the others in my barn, but it is a special challenge, which I enjoy."

Colonel Courtney was fourth as the beaten favorite the Amescua claimed him. He trailed Pragmatico that day. He has been given a brief freshening and has worked well since the claim, including a six-furlong bullet in his final drill.

Amescua is optimistic about Colonel Courtney's chances.

"He's drawn toward the outside, and he can sit where he wants to," Amescua said.