11/06/2004 12:00AM

Baird celebrates No. 9,000

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Chuck Saus
Wearing his brand-new black cap, Dale Baird celebrates with friends and family Friday at Mountaineer.

Dale Baird finally got to change ball caps Friday night.

Baird, the winningest trainer in Thoroughbred history, traded in his signature electric blue cap, which commemorated his 8,000th career victory on July 22, 1999, for a spiffy new black model embossed with the number 9,000 following Frazee's Folly's victory in the eighth race at Mountaineer Race Track.

In addition to the hat, Mountaineer Race Track management presented Baird with a plaque and a banner to recognize his latest milestone. Baird was joined by approximately 50 family members and a large gathering of friends in a joyous winner's circle ceremony after the race.

"I have six brothers and four sisters, and they were all there with their kids, along with my wife, my three children, and my mother," the 69-year-old Baird said by phone on Saturday.

Although Baird is typically humble when discussing his career, he admitted that Friday was a special night for him.

"We've been trying to win 9,000, and now we did it," he said. "It means a lot to me. It really does. It was a great night."

Baird, a native of Martinsville, Ill., saddled his first winner on Aug. 18, 1961, at Ellis Park. He eventually moved his stable to Wheeling Downs in West Virginia and then on to Waterford Park, which is now Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort.

Baird won every meet training title at Mountaineer for 20 years, 1982 to 2001. Although his pace has slowed since the introduction of slot machines at Mountaineer and a resuting increase in purses and competition, he currently leads the 2004 standings with 94 wins, 31 more than his closest rival.

Baird so dominated at Mountaineer that he led the nation in wins 15 times between 1971 and 1999. Since he owns almost all of the horses he trains, he has been the leading owner in the country by wins 17 times.

In 1973 Baird became the first trainer to win 300 races in a year. He leads Jack Van Berg, the second-winningest trainer of all time, by more than 2,600 victories.

The Baird clan was not the only large group gathered together following Frazee's Folly's one-length victory under jockey Deshawn Parker. A sizable number of horsemen were also huddled.

In a clear attempt to reach 9,000 wins on Friday, Baird had judiciously spotted Frazee's Folly in the $7,500 claiming race, and, according to assistant racing secretary Mark Patterson, 15 claim slips were dropped. The winner of the shake was trainer John W. Baird, Dale's brother.

The victory, according to Equibase statistics, gave Baird 8,998 winners, while Baird's personal records put the win at No. 9,000.

On Saturday, the day after his momentous victory, it was business as usual for Baird.

"I got up at 5:30 and went to the barn like I always do," he said. "Now that we've got 9,000 taken care of, we can get back to the business of racing."