08/07/2006 11:00PM

Breen keeping good company

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Bill Denver / EquiPhotos
Kelly Breen, with Haskell runner-up Praying for Cash, does some of his best work with 2-year-olds and first-time starters.

On the morning of the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, trainer Kelly Breen explained how he enjoys competing in the game's top races, and by analyzing recent results he is not merely star gazing in order to wear his favorite suit in the paddock.

Later in the day, Breen's 3-year-old Praying for Cash, the winner of the Grade 3 Long Branch who is owned by a group that includes former Duke hoops star Bobby Hurley, set the pace and finished second at 9-1. He also saddled 10-1 Prop Me Up to a second-place finish in the Matchmaker.

Breen, 37, is based at Monmouth with 45 horses, but he has also made his presence felt on the New York circuit of late. He won the Astoria Stakes with Desire to Excel in early July - at a $50.50 payoff, mind you - and then sent her to perform on the game's biggest stage at Saratoga, where she finished second following a stumbling beginning in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes.

"To have horses that make the national rankings leader board in the Daily Racing Form is what gets you excited, because it doesn't get any better than that," Breen said. "Desire to Excel was 2 for 2 for us, and then ran such a huge race to be second in a race she got hurt in last time. As great as the race was, it was also devastating, because she has some issues right now and likely would not run until next year at the earliest. She may be retired as a broodmare - that will be her owner's call.

"Nevertheless, she's the type of 'top-three-in-the-country' horse in her division that keeps you excited about what you do. We've been lucky lately to win a bunch of 2-year-old races, and now figuring out who will run where and dealing with horses of quality has been very exciting."

Most people in Thoroughbred racing circles agree the most demanding races on a trainer's skill are juvenile races and/or a runner's debut. In those categories, and also with runners making their first start in his name, Breen excels. Breen's overall numbers have jumped to career-best heights over the last couple of years, and in 2006 he is on pace for his best yet (43 wins, 23 percent win rate, $1.48 million in purses).

"I'd worked for leading trainers such as Walter Reese and John Forbes, but when I hooked up with Ben Perkins Sr. in 1994, that became extremely important for me to be around some really nice horses and fine-tune my skills," Breen said. "We enjoyed about six years of success together, went to the Breeders' Cup a couple of times, won a Meadowlands Cup, and when Ben retired in 2000 I went on my own with a couple of horses and was able to open some eyes.

"I think today that my biggest asset is that I learned a great deal from Ben, and I have to give him a lot of credit, because his claim to fame was his ability to get 2-year-olds ready. I've incorporated a lot of his technique in my program - and you learn as you go - and it's working."

Last year, Breen won a maiden race and the Sorority with a filly named Keeneland Kat, who ranked among the divisional leaders before she closed her campaign with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Frizette.

"To even be in the hunt for the Breeders' Cup was really neat," Breen said. "I'm very humble, and to win the Kentucky Derby is a far stretch. In reality, I try to set one goal at a time and to win a Breeders' Cup race - I'd been to the show before with Ben - seems realistic. And, don't get me wrong, I still love figuring ways to get the cheaper horses to run. We ran second in a $5,000 claimer a couple of days ago, and we were hollering in the stretch."

Breen did start Haskell Day with Meadow Blue's easy victory in the $65,000 Lincroft Handicap for New Jersey-breds, and although races like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies will have to wait, the wait might not be long.

INSIDE THE STABLE

HorseAge/SexLast raceFinishLast 3 BeyersCareer recordEarnings
Desire to Excel2FSchuylerville-G327591--3-2-1-0$113,760
Heckuva Good Time2FColleen42646--2-1-0-030,600
Fandabidoo2CTyro35378--2-1-0-119,200
Approved by Dylan4COC35K/N2X190838317-6-4-1175,252
Mantoloking3CAlwN1X18767764-2-0-049,260
Praying for Cash3CHaskell-G129496887-3-2-1351,630
Irish Gentleman3GJersey Derby8869784-2-0-053,200
Meadow Blue3CLincroftH1100787810-4-2-0132,485

VITAL STATISTICS

CategorySts.W%ROI
1st race after claim320.222.11
2nd race after claim220.272.67
1st race with trainer650.222.38
+180 days since last race260.120.72
60-180 days since last race250.202.92
Second off layoff 45-180 days300.233.37
Second off layoff +180 days230.130.82
1-7 days since last race70.141.71
1st time starter330.362.22
2nd start as maiden250.200.93
Maiden special to maiden claimer70.141.60
1st time turf90.110.96
1st time blinkers160.191.01
1st time Lasix110.090.49
2-year-olds450.363.21
Dirt to turf190.213.02
Turf to dirt140.141.10
Blinkers on180.170.90
Blinkers off30.333.13
Sprint to route540.221.58
Route to sprint450.221.97
31-60 days since last race870.141.40
Won last start830.222.11
Wet tracks480.151.01
Dirt4400.221.74
Turf350.172.14
Sprints2850.211.69
Routes1900.241.89
Maiden claiming390.282.14
Maiden special weight970.221.13
Claiming1760.252.28
Allowance1050.211.45
Stakes460.132.07
Graded stakes130.080.82
Debut in maiden claiming race80.383.22
Debut greater than/equal to 1 mile40.000.00

Trainer statistics reflect North American starts from Jan. 1, 2005 through Aug. 6, 2006