08/20/2013 12:21PM

Dick Jerardi: Charles Town trainer Runco content as big fish in small pond

Coady Photography
The 3-year-old In the Fairway is the current star of Jeff Runco's stable.

Jeff Runco won 160 in six years as a jockey. He got heavy.

He has won 3,334 races in 30 years as a trainer. He got successful.

Runco has been dominating the standings at Charles Town for years, but he could win anywhere, as he proves whenever his horses go out of town.

He trains a very nice 3-year-old West Virginia-bred named In the Fairway. The horse has won four stakes at Charles Town, three for statebreds and the Tri-State Futurity. He has already won more than $200,000.

Historically, the Runco horse is Researcher, who won the Charles Town Classic twice, the Queens County at Aqueduct, and the Mountaineer Mile.

[MID-ATLANTIC RACING: Complete DRF coverage, weekly video previews]

“Researcher obviously is the best horse I ever had,’’ Runco said. “He was pretty special.’’

All told, Researcher won 13 races and more than $1.3 million for Runco. He earned eight triple-digit Beyers in his career.

Runco grew up in Omaha, then ended up in Louisiana galloping and riding horses for Bud Delp. That got him to Maryland, where he rode first call for Delp when he had the bug. He outgrew the saddle, met his future wife, and they turned to training.

“We got a few clients and it just kind of took off from there,’’ Runco said. “Went from five or six horses to 10 to 17 and just kind of grew from there.’’

These days, Runco keeps the barn at around 40. It works for him and for his owners.

His first triple-digit win year was in 1991, when he saddled 138 winners. He has won at least 100 races in every year since, except 2005. His 160 winners in 2012 was the second-best number in his career. He is right around 100 in mid-August, a typically excellent year.

Runco has started more than 16,000 horses in his career. His horses have earned nearly $36 million.

Everything has changed at Charles Town since the advent of slot machines. Runco was there when the purses were next to nothing. Now, a good trainer can really earn a nice living.

“We were hoping [the slots] were going to be here, but you never knew how it would work,’’ Runco said. “We were among the first tracks that got them. It has definitely been good. It’s still good.’’

There may come a day when Runco cuts back on the stable, looking for a bit more quality over quantity. Then, he might try another circuit. For now, his Charles Town home base is just fine.

“Right now, we like what we are doing,’’ he said. “We race all over the place. We’re so centrally located. You’re an hour and 15 minutes from Maryland, a few hours from Penn, can go to Delaware in a couple of hours. It’s a good location to race from.’’

Runco will head down to Keeneland next month for the yearling sales.

“We love young horses,’’ he said. “That’s where it’s at. To get a good one, you’re not really going to claim him.’’

Incentives for Princess of Sylmar to run at Parx

Owner-breeder Ed Stanco has to be tempted to run Pennsylvania-bred Princess of Sylmar in the Sept. 21 Cotillion at Parx Racing. Not only is it a Grade 1 worth $1 million against straight 3-year-old fillies, there is 20 percent breeders’ bonus and 10 percent owners’ bonus for a Pa-bred. So, if the Princess wins her fourth consecutive Grade 1, Stanco would not only get the $600,000 winner’s purse, he would get another $120,000 as the breeder and $60,000 as the owner for a cool $780,000.

Delaware Oaks winner Dancing Afleet, another Pennsylvania-bred, is eligible for all the same Cotillion bonuses as Princess of Sylmar. Her connections, however, would not enter the race with the same level of confidence.

Another $2 million season for Penn-based jockey

Dave Cora, running away with the Penn National jockeys’ race (107 wins and counting), just passed $2 million in mount earnings for the fifth consecutive year. To calculate jockey earnings, a good rule of thumb is to take 8.5 percent of the total mount earnings. Given that math, it is clear Cora is carving out a nice living in the shadow of Blue Mountain.