08/18/2008 12:00AM

Longtime Florida regular stays below radar


After 60 years in the business, it's time trainer Manuel Azpurua received the respect he deserves.

Azpurua is relatively unknown outside south Florida, where he has been a regular for the past 28 years. A native of Venezuela and the son of one of his country's leading owners during the 1930s and 1940s, Azpurua attended the Manlius Military Academy in Syracuse, N.Y., before returning to Venezuela, where he won nearly 3,000 races during a 30-year span that began in 1948.

Since settling in at Calder on a permanent basis in 1980, Azpurua has developed numerous stakes-caliber and even a handful of graded-stakes-caliber runners. His forte has been 2-year-olds. Azpurua won the Criterium Stakes five times and his outstanding filly Extended Applause was second in the Grade 1 Spinaway and Grade 2 Adirondack before going on to finish fourth in the 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Several years later, Azpurua was at it again, this time with a 2-year-old colt named Sir Oscar, whose 6-for-6 record in 2003 included a sweep of the open division of the Florida Stallion Stakes.

Azpurua returned to the Breeders' Cup for a second time in 2006 with the consistent older sprinter Nightmare Affair. The upset winner of the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap earlier that summer, Nightmare Affair finished a surprising third behind ultimate Eclipse Award winner Thor's Echo in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Sprint and third behind that same rival four weeks later in the Grade 1 De Francis Dash. Nightmare Affair ended his career with earnings of in excess of $1.1 million.

One has to be an early bird to catch Azpurua getting his young horses ready for the races each morning. Azpurua generally completes much of his training before sunrise, perhaps one reason his first-time starters show a profitable return on investment of $2.36. He does even better with debut maiden claimers, owning a $2.51 ROI when starting one of his young runners off the bat for a claiming tag.

Azpurua is also not averse to taking an edge with one of his youngsters. A good case in point came last week at Calder, where Azpurua unveiled a 2-year-old Successful Appeal filly named Street Appeal under a $12,500 claiming tag. Sent off at 4-1, Street Appeal uncorked an eye-catching run from near the rear of the pack to dominate the field, drawing off to win by 13 lengths. Her Beyer Speed Figure of 71 is more than 20 points above par for the category. There were no takers.

Azpurua also bears watching when putting a horse on Lasix for the first time. Recent stats show a 30 percent success rate and whopping $9.44 ROI when Azpurua uses this angle. He has also been showing flat-bet profits with horses returning from layoffs of 31-60 days ($2.34), over the wet racetracks that are prevalent at Calder during the summer season ($2.13), and in claiming races in general ($2.29).