06/15/2008 11:00PM

Calhoun enjoys strong results with all types

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Horseplayers in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Illinois know trainer Bret Calhoun, or at least his accomplishments, having witnessed him regularly winning races and ranking among the leading trainers at tracks in those states. But in Kentucky, where he ran sparingly up until a year ago, he has remained somewhat of an unknown.

If he keeps winning at his current 41 percent rate at Churchill, he will not go unnoticed much longer. Through Sunday, Calhoun was 7 for 17 at the current Churchill Downs meet, highlighted by a victory from Mr. Nightlinger in the Grade 3 Aegon Turf Sprint on May 2.

Calhoun, 44, a native of Dallas who first began running a string in Kentucky during the 2007 spring meet at Churchill, said he chose to race a stable in Kentucky to improve his name recognition, to attract owners, and to avoid being labeled a "Midwest, Southern trainer."

"I do regret not going sooner," he said. "I waited too long."

Calhoun's string in Kentucky has fluctuated between 16 and 20 horses, he said. The 80 or so other horses that form his stable are based at Lone Star Park and Louisiana Downs.

Although many of the horses he has run in Kentucky this spring have been low- to mid-level claiming horses, he plans to unveil some of his more high-quality runners later this year. Among those he hopes to showcase are three 2-year-olds purchased at Keeneland last September as yearlings for rich prices by owner Clarence Scharbauer Jr.

Scharbauer owns Valor Farm in Texas with his wife, Dorothy. Dorothy, along with daughter Pam, were the owners of 1987 Kentucky Derby winner Alysheba.

Scharbauer's trio of expensive 2-year-olds includes Silver City, an Unbridled's Song colt purchased for $700,000; Indigo Mountain, an A.P. Indy colt who was bought for $600,000; and Awesome Fleet, an Awesome Again filly who was purchased for $1.4 million. She is a half-sister to 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex.

"I've never had horses of that caliber," Calhoun said.

Of that group, Silver City is nearing his debut, with Indigo Mountain and Awesome Fleet more likely to run in the fall.

Calhoun's current top performer in Kentucky is Mr. Nightlinger, a speedy Indian Charlie colt whom Calhoun hopes can run in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita this fall.

Despite the growth in quality of Calhoun's stable, he said he is not restricting himself to training on the high end. He enjoys winning races, and his barn includes a wide variety of horses, representing all different class levels. Five of his seven wins at Churchill this meet have come with claiming horses.

"I'd like to get better horses, like everybody else," he said. "But I enjoy training them all - as long as they can win."

Winning is something Calhoun has done often. Last July at Louisiana Downs, he trained his 1,000th winner - a remarkable accomplishment for a man who began training a small stable in 1993. His win total now stands at 1,186, bolstered by a banner year so far in 2008. His stable is winning at a 29 percent clip across the country, winning 105 of 353 starts.

Besides his success in Kentucky this spring, Calhoun currently ranks second in the trainer standings at Lone Star Park, trailing Steve Asmussen by a 54-48 margin.

But with purses in Texas stagnant, his numbers in Kentucky could increase in the years to come. "Things don't look that bright in Texas right now," he said. "They've had trouble with purse structure and slots going through. It's hard to get owners to invest and run for the money they are running for."