Updated on 09/15/2011 1:38PM

Amoss strategy: Win, win, win

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Natalie Ardoin
Trainer Tom Amoss and owner Merwyn Sher won the Gaudin last Sunday with ex-claimer Robin de Nest (left).

NEW ORLEANS - It was quiet at Fair Grounds on Monday, one of the slow days of the racing week. Owner Merwyn Sher was in town from St. Louis to witness a nerve-racking stunt, the class-dropping free fall trainer Tom Amoss would perform with Causeimadoll, a horse owned by Sher's family partnership, Tom Boy Stable.

Causeimadoll had hit the board four times in a row, winning twice, and in her last start ran for a $45,000 claiming price. Monday, she was entered for $15,000, and rival trainers would be lining up to claim her. The risk was that someone else would go on to prosper with a bargain buy.

Risk? Amoss specializes in such maneuvers, especially at Fair Grounds. His class-dropping horses almost always win, get claimed, and rarely return to run well and haunt Amoss and his owners. Claimers, after all, do not stay good forever.

Sher, his son, Howard, and Amoss chatted easily in the paddock as Causeimadoll headed onto the racetrack. Moments before her race, they moved to a monitor and looked on with no trace of nerves as Causeimadoll won by almost 10 lengths. She paid $3 - no matter, since Sher doesn't bet - and was claimed.

"Now that's what's so fun," said Sher. "Winning."

Since Sher likes winning, he did well to hook up with Amoss three years ago. Winning is all the 40-year-old Amoss seems to do these days. An eight-time leading trainer at Fair Grounds, he started last season on an incredible roll, yet this year has been even better. From Monday, Dec. 10, to Monday, Dec. 17, Amoss saddled 14 horses at Fair Grounds: Nine of them won, and the other five finished second or third. The surge ran his meet record to a remarkable 17 winners from 36 starters and pushed him to a one-win lead in the trainer standings over Steve Asmussen, who tied Amoss for the title last year. Sher, the leading owner at Fair Grounds last year, is back on top again.

Amoss has scored with players in the claiming game like Causeimadoll, but he has won with quality runners, too. Friday, Aloha Bold remained undefeated with his fourth win. Saturday, La Recherche won the $100,000 Pago Hop, and on Sunday, *, the best horse Sher has owned in his 34 years in the sport, won the $75,000 Gaudin Handicap. Both stakes wins came by a nose.

"Six more inches and I'd be down and out," Amoss said Monday morning.

Amoss, who runs a large public stable, doesn't have owners with the deepest pockets in the game. He relies on private purchases of horses in training and on claims, rather than million-dollar yearlings. It was through a $12,500 claim in 1997 that Amoss got Hot Wells - who finished fourth in the Preakness Stakes the next spring - his best find before Robin de Nest.

A year ago, Sher, 61, plunked down $30,000 for Robin de Nest, a horse struggling to win his second race. "We're realistic about things," said Sher, who owns a string of grocery stores in southern Illinois. "If you claim a $30,000 horse, you just hope you get a horse worth $30,000."

Robin de Nest had promising speed figures on the Ragozin sheets, which Amoss uses to gauge ability, but the blunt term for the colt was a hanger. He would run fast enough to win, but seemed unwilling to run hard enough to win.

But since Amoss and Sher claimed him, Robin de Nest, a 4-year-old colt by Robin de Pins, has won seven times in 13 starts and earned more than $300,000. While many successful claims quickly improve, then begin to regress - Amoss's suspicion about the trajectory of Causeimadoll - Robin de Nest has held his form all year, and his win in the Gaudin was arguably his best effort yet. Rallying relentlessly from behind, he wore down Bonapaw, one of the more talented sprinters in the country, and then held off the late-running Crucible.

"The most enjoyable thing is when they get to the eighth pole, he's going to try," said Amoss. "[Sunday] he was full of desire, he wouldn't give up.

"I can't sit here and give you the reason he's become what he's become. Whatever reason, he adapted to our system. No miracles. Something happened that made him want to try harder."

Amoss and Sher claimed Robin de Nest from trainer Chris Speckert, who also owned the colt and had purchased him at auction. Speckert, who has known great success of his own, remains remarkably unaffected by Robin de Nest's rise. "Tom told me he was going to claim the horse. We're friends," Speckert said.

Speckert said Robin de Nest had had been somewhat weak as a young horse and had suffered from ulcers when Speckert trained him. "He was getting sounder, I guess," he said. "He had a lot more in him than I thought. You win some, you lose some."

Robin De Nest is solid right now, which means there are no free-falling class drops on his horizon. Sher, who ground out small purses at Fairmount Park, his home track, during most of his years as an owner, can look forward to three more Fair Grounds sprint stakes this meet with total purses of $325,000; Amoss, three more potential wins in pursuit of another training title.

"This is the ultimate, when you can win a stakes with a claimer," Sher said. "You can forget about all the other dumb moves you made for awhile."

Not that Amoss is making many of those.

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