07/13/2008 11:00PM

It pays to get reacquainted with Cam Gambolati


Cam Gambolati, 58, is best known as the trainer of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck, but he'll be the first to tell you that while that experience was the thrill of a lifetime, it also seems a lifetime away. Bettors, of course, live in the here and now anyway, and perhaps getting reacquainted with Gambolati would prove a shrewd idea.

Gambolati, stabled at Monmouth Park with a string of 13, is putting up strong numbers in 2008. He had won with 3 of his last 4 runners through Sunday, July 13, including a win with Buffalo Man ($11) in a stakes at Belmont Park, and has a record of 9-2-4 from 36 starts on the year. His runners have accounted for a flat-bet profit ($2.70), and his stable is on pace to have its best year by purse earnings - if you exclude his 1985 when Spend a Buck pushed that number past the $3.7 million mark - with nearly $400,000 in the bank already.

Buffalo Man, a 4-year-old son of El Prado, rarely runs a poor one (7-3-1 in 16 starts, $384,000 in earnings) and has won stakes sprinting and routing on both dirt and turf. He's a blue-collar type with versatility, and is a good example of what you get from the Gambolati barn. After all, the answer to, "When do I play this guy's runners?" might be, "Whenever you can." On dirt, he wins at 20 percent, on turf it's 22 percent. Sprints, routes, it doesn't matter - 20 percent in either category.

"I wouldn't have had any idea on those numbers until someone told me," Gambolati said. "The problem with percentages is it tries to make an exact science out of this game. You have to remember we are dealing with animals.

"You have to treat them as individuals, and I take a very hands-on approach and like to be very involved since we maintain a barn of, say, 10-15 runners. I don't run my horses a lot. Of course, I'd love to be able to send them out every three to four weeks, but you have to know when you can take a shot and when you can't."

Gambolati trains almost exclusively for the partnership of Rick Pitino's Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock, and the group's primary strategy is to acquire horses at auction in the $100,000-$250,000 range.

"We're not going to spend what many will spend to go after the sale's best athlete, as we keep ourselves on a budget," he explained. "It's not a small budget, but it's a budget. We want to stay in a range whereby if we are wrong and take a hit, the good one that comes along can override our mistake.

"I love training young horses as it is very exciting, and trying to keep them together is the biggest thing. I'm not big on honing them early to press for a start as a 2-year-old because we want them around as older horses. If they have a problem, we back off right away."

Gambolati believes his experiences have made him sharper over the years, and he's felt he's had to adjust training strategy to some extent given the changes in the sport.

"The game has changed in a lot of ways from 20-plus years ago," he said. "For example, if I had Spend a Buck now, I probably wouldn't have him long. He'd break his maiden, offers would roll in, and he'd be gone. It wasn't like that back then, but times have changed. The emergence of 'supertrainers,' not to make fun, has meant a small percentage of top trainers now train the high-class horses and some of the little people are hurt as a result.

"In regard to training, horses just aren't as hearty as a breed now. You cannot train on them as hard as you once did and I think trainers can be a bit gun-shy with horses - unless you are gearing for a big race - because through experience you learn the consequences of training too hard."

Dueling Alex, a juvenile son of Medaglia d'Oro, easily won his debut by nearly five lengths and paid $3.80 to win. His win for a patient outfit like Gambolati's suggests plenty of raw talent is in place.

"He's just a very, very good horse," Gambolati said. "Since we've had him, he's done everything right. We didn't push on him; he just came around quick. We actually had that spot in mind for another horse who had a minor setback, and then we put Dueling Alex in since the race fit him, too.

"I think he's even better than his win margin suggests and he did some nice things in his debut. We'll mess around with him, see where he's at, and he might be good enough for Saratoga, plus he has the pedigree to go on nicely at longer distances."