06/08/2008 11:00PM

Longtime Philadelphia trainer enjoys best results with claimers

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Phil Aristone, 56, has been a trainer at Philadelphia Park since the track opened in the late 1970s, and in the last few years he's increased the scope of his operation. And, with success.

"From the time I was out of college, I worked for trainer Ben Perkins Sr. for about five years and then went on my own," said Aristone, who typically carried a barn of about 12 to 16, upgraded to 25 in 2000, and currently has 38 horses in training. "I'm mostly a claiming trainer, as I've been doing that for many years, but in the last couple of years I've also picked up some homebreds."

Aristone's stats first and second time off the claim merit some attention from bettors and have also helped his client base. Of course, the improved purse structure at Philadelphia Park given the influx of casino dollars hasn't hurt matters.

"Racing in Pennsylvania is very good right now, and I could probably fill two barns of horses if I had the space," Aristone said. "The purse structure [at Philadelphia] helps a trainer like me because you have a chance with claiming horses.

"My strategy is to go into claiming with the attitude that I can always improve the horse - of course, that is not always going to be the case, but I've claimed plenty in the last six or seven years and I think I've consistently done pretty well. I really enjoy the claiming game, the competitiveness of it. I watch every race and look for horses with conditions that I can get to win in the next spot, rather than have to wait with. But most important is the soundness of the horse. If I see something in the paddock that I do not like on the horse, whether it is a $5,000 or $25,000 claim, I'm not going for it. With sound horses, you can normally eventually at least get out. With a sore horse, you can have problems."

Aristone enjoyed his best year in 2007 in terms of purses earned, with a total of more than $1.2 million, thanks largely to a pair of horses in his barn he developed nicely. Neither was a claim, but both raced for a tag as low as $15,000.

Speechifying, a horse who has since been sold to Puglisi Racing, won 6 of 14 starts for Aristone last year and scored a victory in the $260,000 My Juliet Stakes. She's Fancy Free, third in her 2008 return, won a $100,000 Philadelphia Park stakes race restricted to Pennsylvania-breds.

In 2008, Aristone's numbers seem on pace to better his career-best 2007. He is clicking at 15 percent, has won 32 races already, and his runners have banked more than $555,000.

Aristone has grown his stable gradually and has seemingly learned to stick with his strengths. "I've been around plenty of really nice horses, especially when I worked for Perkins," he said. "But I've had my best luck in the claiming game. I enjoy it and I love the competition involved."