03/12/2004 12:00AM

Kagele's making Midwest push


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The California-based Kagele Brothers have made some shrewd moves in recent times. They got in on a 2-year-old named Southern Image at an auction two years ago, and last year, they decided to send $100,000 claim Pie N Burger to the Midwest to trainer Cole Norman.

The decisions are paying dividends. Southern Image won the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap last Saturday, and Pie N Burger will be favored to win his fifth stakes for Norman when he runs in Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

And next month, private purchase Pohave, who was third in the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap last Sunday at Santa Anita, could come to Oaklawn for the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.

But the focus right now is on Pie N Burger, who won an optional claimer the day Tom Kagele and his brother, Jerry, claimed him at Del Mar in August 2002. "He looked like a game horse," Tom said.

Since then, Pie N Burger has proved his new owners right. He won five of seven starts and $373,800 in 2003, including four stakes: the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap; the $60,000 Bob Johnson Memorial; the $75,000 Evangeline Downs Mile; and the $150,000 Seabiscuit on the Breeders' Cup under card last October.

"We love him," Tom said. "He was rattling off stakes wins last year, and hopefully he'll do the same this year."

Norman said among the stakes goals for Pie N Burger this year are the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, which Tom said has an outside chance of luring Southern Image, and the Lone Star Park Handicap.

Pie N Burger was sent to Norman last April. Races for Pie N Burger were not filling in California at that time, and the Kageles had been following the high-percentage Norman, who was the nation's third leading trainer in wins in 2002 and 2003.

"Cole's the best in the Midwest," Tom said. "I gave him a call."

The business relationship has grown from there. Tom said he plans to have about 15 to 20 horses with Norman this upcoming meet at Lone Star Park. The two have been claiming some horses at Oaklawn.

Sunday, they hope to claim another victory with Pie N Burger. Jamie Theriot, who has won three stakes aboard the horse, has the mount in the Razorback.

"He's the greatest horse to ride," Theriot said. "He rates himself. He reaches out far [stride-wise], goes smooth, and does everything like a good horse. He's one of the best I've gotten on."

Apprentice on a roll at Oaklawn

Apprentice Justin Shepherd, who had a chance to win the first stakes of his career Saturday with My Trusty Cat in the Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup, is having an excellent season in Hot Springs. Shepherd won two races Thursday, including the feature with She's A Rebel Too, who will see stakes action later this meet in the $75,000 Instant Racing Breeders' Cup.

Shepherd, 17, is the seventh leading rider at Oaklawn. He has won 18 of 173 starters, and his mounts have earned $352,922.

"I really couldn't ask for things to go any better," Shepherd said. "It's been a super meet."

Shepherd came to Oaklawn from Kentucky. He has also ridden some in New York, and following this meet will ride at Keeneland. One of his supporters at Oaklawn has been David Vance, who trains My Trusty Cat.

"He's riding very well," Vance said. "He pays attention to what you tell him. He's not out there on his own freelancing."

Shepherd is the son of jockey David Shepherd, who is on the comeback trail following an injury, and trainer Sherri Shepherd. Justin, who is a native of Oklahoma, launched his career on his 16th birthday, Aug. 13, 2002, at Canterbury Park.

Justin has his five-pound apprentice allowance through April 18. Other top horses he has ridden at the meet include allowance winner Cahill Holly.

Larry Edwards, a former agent for Jon Court, books mounts for Shepherd.