11/28/2005 1:00AM

Catalano tests recent claim


CHICAGO - Wayne Catalano is not all that shy about making mention of his prowess as a horse trainer. And he has every right to puff up his chest about this 2005 season.

Catalano's 117 victories through Sunday ranked 22nd in the national trainer standings, but that is not the number about which he's most proud. Among the top 100 trainers by wins, Catalano's 36 percent strike rate is the highest. In fact, it's not even close. Only one other trainer on the list, Steven Miyadi, has topped 30 percent, and Miyadi is five percentage points behind Catalano. By comparison, Richard Dutrow Jr., often accused of winning too often on the East Coast, has won with 27 percent of his starters this year.

So it should come as no surprise to find Catalano tied atop the Hawthorne standings with 21 victories. And yet it does. It seemed likely Catalano and his principal owner, Frank Calabrese, would bounce after a frenetic Arlington meet. Their stable never really targets Hawthorne, and there is winter racing at Gulfstream Park to consider this year, too. But with a big run here the last two racing weeks, Catalano is in position to capture another training title, and he, at least, is not surprised.

"With the horses I had and the lineup I had, I thought I'd be very tough," he said Monday morning. "That's one of the reasons I didn't leave to go anywhere, because we had horses to run here. We were here, and the races were here."

Critics complain that a steady stream of class-droppers pad Catalano's stats. And no doubt, this barn does get highly realistic when it comes to spotting claimers. But the Catalano-Calabrese horse for Hawthorne's sixth-race feature on Wednesday, , is moving up to an allowance after having been claimed for $25,000 last month at Keeneland. On Sunday, Catalano boosted the recently claimed Internship into an allowance race, and she won easily.

"Tupper Lake is doing good, and that's why we're in that spot," Catalano said.

Stable manager Steve Leving picks potential claims out on paper, and Catalano okays them in the flesh. Tupper Lake was a go, but Calabrese had to win a shake over several other interested parties to get his horse.

"It was a five-way shake or something like that, and I think we got lucky to get him," said Catalano. "Of course, we haven't run him yet."

Tupper Lake drew the outside post in a seven-horse field, but he'll drop back and try to make a late run, so the draw shouldn't hurt him. If the track favors speed horses, , who has pace and an inside post, could be the one to catch.