09/03/2007 12:00AM

Guillot: From the bayou to the big time


DEL MAR, Calif. - If Salute the Sarge can run as fast as his trainer runs his mouth, there will be no catching him in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on Wednesday.

Eric Guillot, the big, boisterous trainer of Salute the Sarge, is right out of the Louisiana bayou, where storytelling is part of the way of life. So is racing horses. Guillot, 45, has been able to combine two of his favorite pastimes. With the backing of owner Michael Moreno, who partnered with Guillot to form Southern Equine Stable LLC, Guillot is starting to make his mark after years of knocking about the sport.

Just ask him. A question as benign as, "So Eric, how are you?" cannot be followed up with a second question until, oh, about a half-hour later. Guillot combines a friendly, gregarious nature with self-confidence in his horsemanship. Salute the Sarge gives him a chance to show off all of it.

"We're gonna kick their freaking behind," is the G-rated way to convey Guillot's comments on how he believes Salute the Sarge will fare in the Futurity, the highlight of Wednesday's closing-day card. "If someone beats me, it's just that they have a better horse. It won't be a fluke. But they better bring their runnin' shoes."

Salute the Sarge has won all three of his starts, including the Hollywood Juvenile Championship and last month's Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. He is the most-prominent horse currently trained by Guillot, but with the money Moreno is putting into the sport, more should be in the pipeline.

Moreno, 39, who has an oilfield construction business based out of Houston, has put Guillot in charge of ramping up his holdings. They began nine years ago, initially with a farm and training center in Sunset, La., that has since grown to a couple hundred acres. In the past year, in partnership with John Sikura, they have purchased several high-priced broodmares, including Madcap Escapade and Better than Honour, the dam of Belmont Stakes winners Rags to Riches and Jazil. This year, they bred their mares to elite sires such as A.P. Indy, Distorted Humor, Giant's Causeway, and Storm Cat.

They have spent lavishly for racehorses; Salute the Sarge was a $300,000 purchase at Barretts in March. Guillot said they now have approximately 250 horses, including 35 in training in Southern California.

Guillot has a house near the chic strand in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Life, he'll admit, is good. Considering where he's been and what's he's done, he's not about to complain.

"Ewwee, I've had a life," he said.

Guillot grew up in New Iberia, La., just down the street from Eddie Delahoussaye. Racing was part of the culture, even for someone who only had a peripheral interest in the sport.

"Within a 30-mile radius of where I lived, there were five match-race places," Guillot said. "People like Shane Sellers, Kent Desormeaux, Robby Albarado, Ray Sibille, Randy Romero, and Ray Broussard all came out of there. I had a pony when I was 5, a full-sized horse when I was 7 or 8, and by 13 I was going to match races every weekend. It's part of the lifestyle. You work 9 to 5 during the week, train in the afternoon after work, and race on weekends. I had one of the best childhoods a man could imagine - fishing, hunting, horses."

In 1982, Guillot moved to California, where he initially worked in construction. He admits to leading a hedonistic lifestyle that involved using drugs and women.

"Living in San Diego, straight out of Cajun country, I tore it up," he said. "I looked like Rambo."

Guillot is separated from his second wife. He has three boys - ages 19, 12, and 5 - with three different women.

In addition to doing general contracting work, Guillot started training a small string of horses at San Luis Rey Downs in 1986, then moved up to Hollywood Park and Santa Anita in 1989. His first significant break as a trainer came in 1992, when he nursed Slew the Surgeon, a former claimer with a bowed tendon, back to health and won Hollywood's Triple Bend Handicap.

In 1998, having hooked up with Moreno, Guillot moved back to his native Louisiana and raced at Fair Grounds, Delta Downs, Evangeline Downs, and Lone Star Park. He returned to California on a permanent basis last year.

Guillot said his blunt nature regarding the ability of horses has offended owners who did not want to hear the cold, hard truth, but he believes he has found a sympatico partner in Moreno.

"No one's ever taken horses away from me because of the job I was doing," Guillot said. "When it's all said and done, I'm going to make it to the top without lying, cheating, or stealing."