02/19/2007 12:00AM

Carla Gaines

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Instant gratification has no place in the stable of trainer Carla Gaines. Crank them up? Rush into a stakes? No thanks.

“Maybe it is old school, but I believe in progression,” she said, and that attitude sets her apart.

“The philosophy around here is to go for it now, because you never know if something is going to chip or strain a ligament, and you might be turning them out.”

But Gaines is deliberate. Proof is two fillies that recently won maiden races for Gaines at Santa Anita. Nashoba’s Key won a turf route; River Glow won a dirt sprint. Both fillies did not make their debut until they were 4.

Gaines said she does not purposely crank them up. “I don’t; I never do,” she said. “Someone made the comment that when I have one that wins first time out you know it’s a runner.”

Gaines has plenty of “runners” in her 44-horse stable, which has fired at a 25 percent clip for more than a year. Once regarded as a trainer who rarely wins first out, Gaines has won with four first-time starters since Dec. 2. Her explanation: “Better horses.”

Most of her horses are well-bred. Nashoba’s Key is out of a dam that won 4 of 5 for Gaines and owner Warren Williamson after being imported from Europe. Tiz Elemental also races for Williamson; Gaines trained her dam, Blending Element, a Grade 3 winner who won 7 of 13 after she arrived from Ireland.

River Glow is a half-sister to graded stakes winner Lucky J.H., both owned and bred by California breeder John Harris.

“I knew she was good, but she didn’t have it all put together mentally to run like that,” Gaines said, referring to the 93 Beyer that River Glow earned first out. “I think she’s got a way better race coming up. She won with her ears pricked.”

Gaines has the luxury of being deliberate because she trains for breeders. There is no big rush to secure a return on investment, unlike for trainers who purchase expensive yearlings and 2-year-olds.

While Gaines takes her time, her horses do run at 2. Spot the Diplomat earned a 50 Beyer in his debut June 1, improved to 90 second out, then won two juvenile stakes at Del Mar. He emerged from the Cal Cup Juvenile in October as a tired horse.

“He’ll come back and be a nice horse,” Gaines promised.

Harris-owned Street Lights also ran at 2, finishing second in a Del Mar stakes, and he recently ran the best race of his career. He finished second and earned a 92 Beyer in a fast allowance sprint.

Gaines, 54, is the most successful female trainer on the Southern California circuit. In addition to training for breeders, her clients include B. Wayne Hughes, Keith Brackpool, and Swift Thoroughbreds. Ricky Aguirre is Gaines’s assistant.

Gaines imports a handful of Europeans each year. One such filly was the stable star in 2006, Foxysox, who won five races and $402,960 from nine U.S. starts. A foot problem has delayed her 2007 campaign; she remains in training. Lucky J.H. is expected to return this year.

Highly regarded Onida chipped an ankle in a turf allowance Feb. 1 and will be out until fall. Knighthood is a Fusaichi Pegasus colt from Hastings whose quality remains unknown. Gaines has high hopes for an unraced Golden Missile filly.