09/06/2013 8:03AM

Fort Erie: Buttigieg’s compact barn has gaudy win rate


FORT ERIE, Ontario – When Nootsie’s Party won Tuesday’s 10th race at Fort Erie, it capped off a great week for the 36-year-old trainer Kevin Buttigieg, which included an easy win by Catch the Luck in the Puss n Boots Cup Stakes last Sunday.

Buttigieg has a record of 5-2-2 in 11 starts at the Fort Erie meeting, a 45-percent win rate, and his small stable was certainly enhanced with the $8,000 claim at Woodbine of the 8-year-old gelding Catch the Luck.

“I have always loved old class horses,” Buttigieg said, “and when searching for a runner to claim this summer, I settled on Catch the Luck.

“He has plenty of back class, and I felt that he would fit the dirt at Fort Erie and hopefully much better than the Woodbine Poly[track].”

Buttigieg sold his friend and partner, Doug Snowden, a half-interest in Catch the Luck and then gave his new purchase some time off before sending him out in a $10,000 starter allowance route race over the Fort Erie dirt oval. Catch the Luck was 19-1 at post time.

“I put Bradley Wilson aboard, since he is good at relaxing a horse,” Buttigieg said, ”and after settling off the pace for a half-mile, he then moved smartly when asked, took control and won in hand by more than five lengths.

“He was given an 86 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort. Then, after finishing a close second in a turf try, he went into the Cup race.”

As chance would have it, the Puss n Boots, a turf event, was moved to the main track because of heavy rain the day before.

Once again, after settling early, Catch the Luck took command near the half-mile mark and then widened his lead to the finish, winning by 8 1/4 lengths.

“He is very good,” jockey Wilson said, “and made it look easy.”

Buttigieg has a laid-back attitude when it comes to owning and training Thoroughbreds.

“I have been around horses pretty well all my life,” Buttigieg said, “and bought my first horse when I was 14 years old.

“Ever since, I have owned horses nearly every year and they were good enough to pay my way rather than take on a job somewhere.”

In 2002, Buttigieg received his trainer’s license and has worked with a small stable over the years. He currently has four runners in the barn, and his assistant, Sarah Collicutt, does the galloping and aids in the caring and conditioning of the horses.

His current win percentage is no fluke, as over the years he has averaged 25 percent winners, and 58 percent of the time his horses are in the money.

“I prefer to keep a small stable,” Buttigieg said, “as it lets us have hands on with all of our horses.”

Meet a hit so far

Jim Thibert, chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, says that Fort Erie has had an excellent 2013 season to date.

Thibert maintains day-to-day statistics comparing 2013 with 2012 handles and they confirm the success of 2013, even with the adversity of a limited supply of horses.

As of mid-August, on a day-to-day comparison with 2012, ontrack wagering is up 2.5 percent.

Comparable food and beverage sales are up 8 percent, and program sales are up more than 40 percent. Attendance is not actually counted, but all anecdotal evidence suggests a sizeable increase in attendance.

“Our racing secretary and his staff have done an unbelievable job of filling races,” Thibert said, “and together with our small management cadre, we are getting good crowds and meeting our obligation of 400 races this season. The loss of Monday racing has been recovered by adding races to our Sunday and Tuesday cards.”

On the subject of 2014 racing, something on the minds of many horsemen as the season wanes, Thibert is hoping a decision can be made by early October on its fate.

“We realize the importance of an early announcement,” Thibert said, “and hope that the government is on board with the need to promulgate the 2014 details as soon as possible.”