10/30/2006 1:00AM

Best year yet for Finger Lakes ace


Chris Englehart is a lot like a used car salesman who's so eager to make a deal that he will offer to take your vehicle on a trade-in sight unseen. Even if you're sure he has taken the worst end of the swap, Englehart will end up making money.

Englehart, 51, deals in horseflesh, not automobiles. But like a savvy used car salesman, Englehart makes a good living racing mostly cheap claiming horses. This year, he's well on his way to winning his fourth consecutive training title at Finger Lakes, his home base since he took out his trainer's license in late 1973. In addition to the 65 horses he has stabled at the western New York track, Englehart has successfully branched out, maintaining a dozen stalls year round at Mountaineer Race Track and another 10 at Delaware Park.

Unlike many horsemen, Englehart never has to worry about where he's going to get horses. There's always a steady flow of owners offering him stock, mostly horses that have proven to be too slow to make money downstate racing against tougher competition at Aqueduct and Belmont Park.

Englehart frankly doesn't care how bad the horse might appear on paper, or even what the animal looks like physically.

"I'll take everything they send me," Englehart said.

The arrangement seems to suit all parties concerned.

"I've got a lot of good owners," Englehart said. "They don't fall in love with the horses they send me and they give me great flexibility to run them where I want and where I think they fit."

As a result of his reputation, and perhaps the higher purses at Finger Lakes since slot machines were installed, the pipeline of horses streaming into Englehart's barn has expanded the past several years.

Although he has churned out a steady 20-percent win rate from slightly more than 10,000 starters during his 32-year career, it wasn't until 2003 that Englehart won more than 100 races in a single season. With 159 wins through Oct. 27, he has already matched his previous career-best total, set last year.

"My business has dramatically grown the past several years," Englehart said. "A lot more people are sending horses here from New York [City]. There are five or six trainers here who get 75 to 80 percent of the New York horses and I'm one of them."

Englehart may also be the best at finding the proper level for his new acquistions. As a result, his clients do well. Just look at his record with some of his regular owners.

He's 16 for 48 (33 percent) for Thomas Brockley, 8 for 23 (34 percent) for William Punk and Phil Dileo, 25 for 79 (31 percent) for One Pond Stable, and 5 for 16 (31 percent) for Desavino Stable.

Although Englehart's horses are often heavily bet, there are categories where he produces flat profits. Over the past two seasons, these hot statistics include:

o New acquisitions who raced less than 30 days ago making their first start for Englehart in a sprint at Finger Lakes (15 for 54, 28 percent, $2.26 return on investment).

* First time Lasix, excluding first-time starters (7 for 16, 44 percent, $4.72).

* Second time off an extended layoff (51 for 204, 25 percent, $2.05).

* Horses returning in less than 15 days going off at odds between 5-1 and 10-1 (12 for 73, 16 percent, $2.50).

At Mountaineer, Englehart excels with horses entered for claiming prices of $10,000 or higher (10 for 44, 23 percent, $2.81 ROI), favorites (31 for 81, 38 percent, $1.92), and second time off a layoff (16 for 65, 25 percent, $2.30).

Englehart's operation is also a family affair. His wife, Sheila, runs the day-to-day operation of his barn at Finger Lakes and owns some of his horses. His brother Steve oversees his horses at Mountaineer, where Englehart's runners have won 30 of 181 races this season. His son Jeremiah handles the horses stabled at Delaware, where Englehart has gone 6 for 28, including Scary Bob's victory in the Delaware Certified, the trainer's lone stakes success the past five years.

About the only venture where Englehart didn't succeed was an ill-advised decision to stable horses at a farm in West Virginia for winter racing at Mountaineer in 2003. He won just 9 of 111 races.

What lesson did Englehart learn?

"I learned not to depend on Mother Nature," he said. "I couldn't get stalls that first year at the track, so I went to a farm where I was told they didn't lose a day of training to the weather the last winter. I had 20 stalls and the training track at the farm was either snowed in or frozen all winter. We never could train and it was impossible to keep the horses fit."

Since Englehart has gotten stall space at Mountaineer, he has gone 78 for 306, 25 percent, proving that his success with horses of modest talent isn't just limited to Finger Lakes. He can win anywhere his stock fits the condition book.