09/09/2004 12:00AM

Awareness of history will pay off at Turfway


LEXINGTON, Ky. - One of the challenges of handicapping Turfway Park's fall meet is its short duration from Sept. 8 to Oct. 7. This limits opportunities for bettors to use short-term trainer stats and trends, because for at least half of the meet there is not a reasonable amount of starters from which to accurately draw a conclusion.

The briefness of the Turfway meet can also be an advantage. While the betting public waits for stats from the current meet, those armed with statistics from past fall meets can be rewarded.

In preparation for Turfway, I compiled trainer statistics from the 2001-2003 fall meets. No statistics from the track's holiday and winter-spring meets were included. What follows is a summary of these fall meet statistics.

Trainer Bernie Flint has been the leading trainer many times over at Kentucky tracks, and Turfway is no exception, be it in the fall or winter. He topped the standings during each of the past three fall meets and also in 1998. He won nine races last year, 11 in 2002, and nine in 2001.

Over that three-meet period, 29 of his 133 starters won, a success rate of 22 percent. Flint's horses were profitable, averaging a $2.21 return on a typical $2 investment.

Trainer Ken McPeek also excelled at Turfway. Despite a 20-1-5-3 record in 2002, he managed to win 14 of 49 fall meet races (29 percent) over the three-year-period. As with Flint, his ROI was favorable at $2.10.

Some other trainers with winning records and positive returns over the last three years include Randy Morse (30 percent winners, $2.05 ROI), Michael Trivigno (24 percent, $3.94), Chris Dorris (26 percent, $3.07), Glenn Wismer (24 percent, $4.74), Carl Nafzger (22 percent, $3.50), and Larry Jones (31 percent, $3.46).

Trainer Mike Maker, a longtime D. Wayne Lukas assistant who began training on his own in the spring of 2003, had a highly productive fall meet last year at Turfway, going 5 for 13 with a $2.02 ROI.

Paul McGee (25 percent, $1.71), Bob Holthus (21 percent, $1.74), and Greg Foley (21 percent, $1.81) also fared well with large numbers of starters at Turfway over the past three fall meets, although they were heavily backed at the betting windows.

Somewhat unexpectedly, several accomplished trainers were quiet in recent fall meets at Turfway. D. Wayne Lukas (14 percent winners, $1.07 ROI), Dallas Stewart (13 percent, $0.66 ROI), and David Vance (3 percent winners, $0.09 ROI) were a few examples.

The numbers were out of the ordinary for Lukas, who won eight fall training titles at Turfway from 1990-2000.

Why do some consistently produce at Turfway while others do not? Those who win often may simply have horses that fit the races more appropriately at Turfway than elsewhere. Meanwhile, in defense of those with less successful numbers, it is clear that many put less emphasis on running their top horses at Turfway, choosing to save them for the lucrative Keeneland fall meet.

That seems to be the case with trainer Dale Romans, who regularly contends for the leading trainer honors at Churchill and Keeneland. His stable won 17 percent of its fall races at Turfway from 2001-2003 - good numbers, but below the 20-plus percent rate that is his norm.

Other leading Kentucky trainers, such as Tom Amoss and Steve Asmussen, ran only a limited number of horses at Turfway over the past three years.

For other horsemen who participate at Turfway, this is their big meet. Ohio trainers, accustomed to running for small purses over the summer at River Downs in Cincinnati, get the opportunity to run for significantly more money at Turfway - in nearby Florence, Ky. - in straight maiden and allowance races.

But River Downs horsemen typically struggle. They do not have the stock to win as often as those based in Kentucky.

The 10 leading trainers from the recently concluded River Downs meet went a combined 28 for 241 (12 percent) over the past three fall meets at Turfway. Their runners hit the board 34 percent of the time.

Joe Woodard, the leading trainer at River Downs this summer, won the most Turfway races of the River Downs group, going 11 for 65 (17 percent) with a $1.77 ROI.

Of the 10 leading River Downs trainers, the three that showed a wagering profit with their fall runners at Turfway were Rinzy Nocero (18 percent, $4.60), George Leonard III (8 percent, $5.96), and Richard Estvanko (16 percent, $2.29). They were dangerous with longshots.

A sound practice at Turfway is to upgrade runners starting for trainers that have a successful history there. Yet trainer statistics alone should not be reason enough for supporting a horse. The horse's talent remains the most important consideration.

But horseplayers that put their faith in well-spotted horses from winning, profitable stables certainly have a better chance to turn a profit.