06/09/2009 11:00PM

Einstein's genius for running

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Helen Pitts has guided Einstein through a 25-race career that includes five Grade 1 victories.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Einstein lives in the stall closest to the office in the Helen Pitts stable at Churchill Downs. His name is first of some 40 horses on the wall-mounted dry-erase board that Pitts uses to keep track of training schedules. And there are not one, but two, large white-on-green paddock placards bearing his name from previous Churchill stakes displayed prominently in the office.

Lest there be any doubt, Einstein is the big horse in the barn.

"He's my man," said Pitts, beaming.

The immense pride is justified. Einstein, a 7-year-old Brazilian-bred whose entire 25-race career has unfolded with Pitts as trainer, is a leading candidate for 2009 Horse of the Year honors. He is among the most widely respected racehorses in training, having occupied the No. 1 slot atop the NTRA national poll in each of the last five weeks. Not only has Einstein won 11 races and banked more than $2.6 million, but if he can prevail Saturday as the 124-pound highweight and favorite in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill, he will accomplish a rare feat in this new age of synthetic tracks.

Only one horse, Lava Man, has ever won at least one Grade 1 event over dirt, turf, and synthetics, having done so over the course of three seasons (2005-07). With a Foster win, Einstein would become the first to complete such a sweep in the same year.

Einstein has won four Grade 1 turf races, including the May 2 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in his latest start, which directly followed a triumph in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap over Pro-Ride in March. He is missing a Grade 1 dirt win, but several of his main-track efforts strongly suggest he is capable. His record includes a runner-up finish to Curlin in the 2008 Foster, a victory in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap last fall at Churchill, and a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in January.

"Is dirt his best surface?" asked Pitts. "No, it probably isn't. But he does love this particular track here at Churchill. It's one he just skips over. If we're ever going to try to do this, get him a Grade 1 on the dirt, this sure looks like the right spot to do it."

Pitts, 35, was still working as an assistant to Ken McPeek in fall 2004 when Einstein, a Southern Hemisphere foal of October 2002, was realizing his true second birthday. Pitts went out on her own in 2005, assumed the training of Einstein before the colt made his first career start in October of that year, and has proceeded to oversee his remarkable rise into the upper echelon of the handicap ranks during some 3 1/2 years of racing.

"He's absolutely the best horse to be around," said Pitts, who has a lifelong background with horses. "He's got more character than you can imagine. He loves to train, he loves to race, he just loves everything about the game."

Jockey Julien Leparoux, who will be aboard Einstein for the fifth straight race Saturday, said the horse's intelligence and toughness are what separate him from his peers.

"He's a fighter," Leparoux said. "He always tries, and that's a nice horse to have. When you put him in a spot, he's very focused and he knows what he's doing. He is very smart. He's a special kind of horse."

The $600,000 Foster, one of five stakes set for Saturday at Churchill, is a 1 1/8-mile race that will not lack for legitimate opposition. Asiatic Boy (122 pounds), second in the 2008 Dubai World Cup, and Arson Squad (118), an earner of nearly $900,000, were among those expected when entries were taken Wednesday, along with Researcher (118), Bullsbay (117), and Macho Again (117).

Assuming Einstein fares well in the Foster, Pitts most likely will send him back to the turf for his next start, the Aug. 8 Arlington Million, followed by the Sept. 6 Pacific Classic on Polytrack at Del Mar.

For Pitts, the Santa Anita Handicap ranks among the best races Einstein has ever run. She is hopeful the horse can return to the Pro-Ride for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November, although one hurdle might be on the horizon. Einstein, who was never nominated to the Breeders' Cup, essentially would have to be supplemented for a total of $350,000, including $150,000 in pre-entry and starting fees. Because the partners who originally owned him in the Midnight Cry Stable, attorneys Bill Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr., are serving lengthy jail terms for bilking clients out of millions of dollars, there is a court-appointed receiver, Matthew Garretson, in charge of business matters.

Pitts said she is operating on the assumption that Einstein would be able to run in the BC Classic, "although I haven't asked that question yet," she said. "But I would hope there wouldn't be a problem, since the horse has already earned almost a million this year."

Whatever the case, Einstein will continue to tackle the tasks at hand. Following three terrific workouts on consecutive Sundays at Churchill, the horse approaches the Foster in great shape, and Pitts is understandably optimistic.

"I can't say enough good about him," she said. "He's versatile and he's class, but his heart is what really stands out about him. He's out there doing what he wants to do."