10/16/2003 11:00PM

Cuccurullo peaking again after months in the valley


STICKNEY, Ill. - The trainer Pat Cuccurullo has ridden racing's roller coaster before. Most of this year he was in a trough. Now, the thrill is back.

Cuccurullo came into the Hawthorne meet with eight wins from 126 starters this year, but after Tuxson scored in the first race Friday, Cuccurullo had won five times with just 13 starters, making him a top-tier trainer so far at this meet.

There are a couple reasons for Cuccurullo's resurgence. First, he knows what he's doing. Second, the owner Frank Calabrese has given Cuccurullo something to work with. Cuccurullo had about 50 horses for the owner Robert Lothenbach just a couple seasons ago, but Lothenbach scaled back - quickly - and Cuccurullo's stable had emptied out by this past summer.

"No, I wasn't thinking about getting out at all," Cuccurullo said. "It's a game of peaks and valleys. I've been a leading trainer a couple times, but I hit a patch that was pretty dry."

Calabrese, Chicago's runaway leading owner, has most of his horses under the care of trainer Wayne Catalano, who cruised to another Arlington training title this season and remains the operation's principal trainer. But at Arlington, Calabrese found he had overflow, and began looking for a second trainer.

"I was out of horses," Cuccurullo said. "Frank, as a personal favor, gave me a couple horses a couple months ago."

Cuccurullo won sparingly for Calabrese at Arlington, but his stable has blossomed since moving to Hawthorne. By contrast, Catalano, whose stock ran especially hard at Arlington, has only two wins from 21 starters. That has led to plenty of ribbing from Calabrese, but Cuccurullo said he and Catalano have a good relationship.

"Wayne was instrumental in putting me in this spot," said Cuccurullo, who has 18 horses for Calabrese and another seven for other clients. "There were a lot of names in the hat when Frank was looking for another trainer."

Calabrese can change his mind with his mood, but as of Friday, he said both Catalano and Cuccurullo would remain in Chicago this winter and point for the National Jockey Club meet in March. Last season, Calabrese was the leading owner at Fair Grounds.

Reavis spots Ft. Mann well

With seven wins from 28 starters, Mike Reavis is having a strong meet, and as of Friday was tied with Chris Block as the leading trainer here. Yet the torrent of Reavis-trained winners that many Chicago observers expected the first couple weeks of the Hawthorne meet never came.

Reavis has been strong in spots, but at his hottest, he will regularly win two or three races a day for a week.

Perhaps the next wave of Reavis runners will be stronger, and Reavis has a strong chance to win Sunday's featured eighth race here with Ft. Mann, who has eight opponents in a third-level allowance.

At 6 1/2 furlongs, the race has a $35,000 claiming option that lets Ft. Mann and three others start.

Ft. Mann has won just one of eight starts this year, but her campaign has been solid. Racing at Arlington over the summer, she hooked sharp winners like Whyte Days, Savorthetime, and Victory at Sea, but a drop in class has landed Ft. Mann in an easier spot this time.

With post 2 and Reavis's regular rider, Larry Sterling, Ft. Mann has found a good spot to score her first victory since March.

She is in the right place, too. Racing on the Hawthorne surface, Ft. Mann has won three times in four starts.