04/26/2002 11:00PM

Father-in-law's tip raised my game

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One of the best things that ever happened to me was when I was at the Preakness in 1995 with Tejano Run.

My wife Sue's dad, Sheldon Lustig, a brigadier general in the Air Force, was there, and he told me that although I was great with horses, I needed to work on my management skills. He referred a book to me called "One Minute Manager."

I was really taken by the book. I decided to apply what it had to say. It had so many valuable things in it. Training used to be a real struggle, but that has changed so dramatically since I started using the principles in the book. People actually like working for me now. Before, they didn't, and I can't say I blame them.

We have two strings - one at Churchill, one at Keeneland. We've found a lot of good, solid, dedicated people to work for us. We've got too many nice horses to be able to afford people who can't do what's expected of them. Having the right people takes a whole lot of pressure off a guy like me.

These are some of our key people:

o Pat Daly is my Keeneland assistant. He's been working with horses for about 20 years. There's nobody with more positive energy than Pat. He saddled Harlan's Holiday for me at Thistledown last year, and I remember him saying, "I'm getting interviewed everywhere I go!"

* Helen Pitts is my assistant here. She gallops Harlan's Holiday and Take Charge Lady and is extremely talented. Like she says, she was riding horses before she was riding bikes. Her dad, Clinton Pitts Jr., was a steward for years in Maryland and New York. She worked a long time for Frannie Campitelli in Maryland and knows horses as well as anyone.

* Belinda Sims and Pete Johnson are our foremen. Belinda is a former trainer. Pete was Sonny Hine's right-hand man for years, and was with him during the Skip Away years.

* Denise Hernandez is the groom for Harlan's Holiday and Take Charge Lady. Eddie Rivera has groomed Repent, Tejano Run, Deputy Warlock, and many of my other best horses. Eddie's wife, Sabrina, also has been with us a long time. Tony McMurtry and Damien Bortz are dedicated hot walkers.