05/30/2003 12:00AM

Jones stable rebounds


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Three years ago, trainer Wilf Jones had a great season at Fort Erie, winning 24 races at a 26 percent clip. The star of his barn was La Picotte, a mare who, with five victories, helped Jones reach fifth place in the trainer standings.

But the following year, Jones's production collapsed to seven wins, and then last year to six. The once hefty win percentage dropped to an ordinary 10 and 11.

"Last year was a disaster," said Jones, 51, a native of Britain. "But it's very simple - you have to have the stock. I've had a nice start this year, but I'm running out of horses fast now."

Jones has already won 4 of 12 starts, but two of the winners are no longer in his barn. A client is taking Drakensberg, who won a maiden special weight, to run at Woodbine. Nunziata, a $5,000 claim in Tampa Bay in April, was lost for $7,000 on Monday.

Jones expects to receive some horses shortly from Florida.

"I get calls from there all the time," said Jones, who resides in Florida during the winter. "But we don't like to have too many. We like to keep our hands on them ourselves. If you overextend yourself, you can't do as good a job."

Jones and his wife, Lynne, like to limit the barn to nine runners. Their star again this year is Malcoha, who won three in a row for them last year. An 11-year-old gelding, Malcoha has a win and a second this season.

"Malcoha is on the back burner now," said Jones. "I have to give him a rest after his last. It was a mammoth effort. It wasn't an easy win. He struggled, so he was obviously in the level ($10,000) where he should have been. I would feel bad running him over his head and getting whipped by those younger and fitter than him. It's a game of chess."

Mandalfino off to much better start

Another trainer rebounding from a bad year is Paul Mandalfino. He had but one win from 30 starts here last year. And he didn't even get his picture taken after that one. His runner, Wise Control, actually finished second but was moved up on a disqualification.

"It was a terrible year," said Mandalfino, who is an owner-trainer. "We bought a few horses and we claimed one. He died.

"We won a low claimer at Thistledown later, and finished the season with two wins from 42 starts."

The tide seems to have changed for Mandalfino and his wife, Julia, who is an ex-jockey. They have started just six runners at the meet and won two races last weekend.

Will Willie Win, making his second start, scored at the bottom $5,000 level and paid $86.70, the highest price of the meet. The next day, Exclusive Tale ($20.90) got the job done.

"I got Will Willie Win from a friend of mine," said Mandalfino. "He brought him down from Woodbine. He didn't like him at all. I got him for a bargain-basement price. The other one I claimed at Tampa Bay for $5,000. He won for $10,000."