11/21/2007 1:00AM

Hawkins begins to win with his bargain basement buys

EmailTuesday was a bit of an anomaly for trainer Phil Hawkins. It was the first time since the beginning of Beulah Park's fall meet that Hawkins did not run a horse.

Hawkins, 38, started 65 horses in the first 26 days of the meet, placing him second in the number of starters behind Reid Gross.

After completing his education, Hawkins took a job at Pin Oak Stud in Kentucky. He soon found himself headed towards farm management.

"If you would have asked me 15 years ago what I would be doing now, I would have said managing a farm somewhere," Hawkins said.

By chance, Hawkins found himself working with horses that were going to be retired, and the training bug bit him. In 1996, he started training on his own, and trained for three years before giving it up.

He and his wife, Susan, got into in the cell phone business, and opened 10 stores in Kentucky and Indiana. Susan still runs two stores, in Georgetown and Frankfort, Ky., Hawkins's hometown.

"You can't believe how tough it is to forget about training when most of your clients are in the horse industry," Hawkins said.

In July of this year, Hawkins could take it no more. "I just had to get back in it," he said.

Hawkins began buying and claiming horses, a total of 35 so far.

"All of my horses have cost between $60 and $5,000, but we have claimed only three, two for $5,000 and one for $4,000," he said.

Hawkins has whittled down the 35 to 20, and through Tuesday had saddled four winners at the meet.

"It took a while to get some of them straightened out, but we are starting to see some results now," he said. "We'll keep doing what we are doing, trying to hit the board with some of these cheaper horses until spring, then I have some owners that want to spend some money and get some better horses. We'll go from there."