07/14/2010 6:38PM

Emerald trainer Markle knows winning

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By Nick Rousso

AUBURN, Wash. – Dan Markle isn’t much for statistics. The veteran trainer wasn’t aware his career winning percentage is among the best in Emerald Downs history, or that 69 percent of his starters at the 2010 meeting have finished first, second, or third. Ask him how old he is and he volunteers that he’s 63, until his wife informs him he’s actually two years younger.

But the personable North Dakota native has a firm grip on the hands-on side of the training game, and he’ll get two more chances Friday to demonstrate his touch. Passion Lives Here is a leading contender in the featured sixth race, a $17,500 claimer for older horses at one mile, and Strawberry Topper will try for his third victory at the meeting in the seventh race, a $10,000 claimer for older horses at 6 1/2 furlongs. First post for the eight-race card is 6 p.m. Pacific.

Markle, whose winning percentage of 18.2 ranks fourth among Emerald trainers with at least 1,000 starters, is having a typically productive meeting, winning with 12 of his first 66 runners. He has 20 horses in training, and 10 have won at the meeting. Crocodile Tuff, a 4-year-old filly, emerged as his stable star when she ran second in the $50,000 King County Handicap on the Fourth of July.

“We’re pecking away,” Markle said this week. “We get lucky every once in a while, and we light the board a lot. We’ve been running quite a few, and we’ve been fortunate to be in the right spots, have some good racing luck along the line, and that’s a big part of it.”

Markle is high on Lilly’s a Jewel, a 3-year-old filly who won two in a row after a runner-up finish in her debut in May. Lilly’s a Jewel finished last of four in an allowance race Sunday after an equipment malfunction nearly bounced jockey Deborah Hoonan-Trujillo from the saddle.

“The stirrup leather broke,” Markle explained. “But Lilly’s a Jewel is a nice, long-striding filly. I don’t know if she’s stakes caliber or not, but it will be interesting to see her run around two turns.”

Markle obtained his first trainer’s license in Boise, Idaho, in the early 1980s and won with the first horse he started, a rickety old gelding who came home at 70-1. That’s a stat he remembers.

“After the race, I said ‘How easy is this?’ he said. “Boy, I had a lot to learn.”