03/16/2006 12:00AM

It's a horse in the running, not a trainer

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Of the many factors to consider in handicapping Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, the least important happens to be the one that has received the most attention this week - that being, who is training Achilles of Troy, one of the favorites.

Jennifer Pedersen is out as trainer for Paraneck Stable, the owners of the colt. Frank Amonte Jr., formerly an assistant for Pedersen, is in. And to read the comments of Ernie Paragallo, the managing partner of Paraneck Stable, it doesn't mean a thing. He told Daily Racing Form, "This ain't no great shakes."

I agree. The media and betting public overemphasize the importance of trainers, although to a lesser extent than they do jockeys - and I say that with great respect for the jobs they do. My point is that the talent of the horse should be the most important consideration for horseplayers - and from that standpoint, Achilles of Troy is gifted.

I'm not the least bit concerned about supporting Achilles of Troy, even though Amonte is largely unproven as a head trainer. When an assistant assumes much of an established stable - as Amonte has in this case - the new trainer often produces.

Remember last summer when Richard Dutrow Jr. began serving a two-month suspension for a pair of medication positives? During that time, most of Dutrow's horses raced under the names of his assistants, Juan Rodriguez and Lawrence Walters. Saint Liam and a few others went to other trainers for a couple of months, with Saint Liam winning the Stephen Foster Handicap for Bobby Frankel, for example.

Guess what happened when Dutrow was away? Rodriguez won with 30 percent of his starters. Walters scored at a 27 percent clip, with 86 percent finishing in the money.

Consider trainers Ian Wilkes and Helen Pitts as further examples. Wilkes and Pitts took over the training of many of the horses for trainers Carl Nafzger and Ken McPeek, respectively, after spending years as their assistants.

Both have been highly successful. Wilkes has won with 23 percent of his starters since going out on his own last fall. Pitts, meanwhile, has already won two Grade 1 races in less than a year of training. Sweet Talker won the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for her last October, and Einstein took the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Turf last month.

That is not to suggest that Amonte will match those accomplishments. The Paraneck Stable is not as talent-laden as the barns that Wilkes and Pitts took over - not top to bottom, anyway.

As far as Saturday's Gotham, I'm not expecting Achilles of Troy to run better or worse for him than when Pedersen was his listed trainer. I'm simply expecting him to run well because of who he is - a top 3-year-old. He might even be a tick or two higher on the odds board because Amonte is unknown to many horseplayers.

Achilles of Troy, a stalker, can continue his march toward the Derby by running down Keyed Entry and Sweetnorthernsaint in a Gotham inundated with speed. He was awesome in winning the Count Fleet and Whirlaway in his two most recent starts, and his powerful second-turn acceleration may prove too much for his opponents to withstand.

Private Vow seems sharp for Rebel

The Grade 3 Rebel at Oaklawn features a much-anticipated matchup between the Futurity winner, Private Vow, and Lawyer Ron and Steppenwolfer, the one-two finishers from the Southwest Stakes.

With Private Vow returning from a layoff dating back to when he won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26, he might appear to be at a conditioning disadvantage. But examine his workout line and he appears geared for his 3-year-old debut. He has been working five-eighths or farther at Palm Meadows in Florida for trainer Steve Asmussen since early February, seemingly leaving him well prepared.

Given Private Vow's relative late start as a 3-year-old - leaving him with likely just two preps heading into the Derby, if he makes it that far - his connections can ill afford to have him return a short horse. I look for him to return on his game and outrun Lawyer Ron, who wasn't as decisive a winner in the Southwest as he was in the Risen Star Stakes at Louisiana Downs earlier in the year.