05/23/2008 12:00AM

MacRae's long work days paying off


FORT ERIE, Ontario - A number of Thoroughbred trainers over the years have achieved success with claiming horses before moving on to allowance and stakes runners.

The late Dick Dutrow was a prime example of success in the claiming game, and his son, Richard Dutrow Jr., also began his career in the claiming ranks before arriving at the pinnacle of racing.

Don MacRae, 31, has already proven himself and is building a solid reputation with his stable of claimers.

Heading into the weekend, MacRae has a lifetime winning percentage of 23 and an in-the-money percentage of 55 from 1,296 starters.

And this year, MacRae is building on those numbers. He currently has 35 runners split between his farm near Welland, Ontario, and his Fort Erie shed row. Other than three 2-year-olds in the group, the rest are claimers.

"I don't have any stakes horses or solid allowance runners, but we are happy with our stable and the results to date," MacRae said.

"Currently, we have 18 stalls at the Fort and rotate our horses back and forth from our farm," he said. "This spring we have also been sending horses over to Woodbine from the Fort, so it has been a very busy operation."

MacRae has sent out 20 runners at Woodbine and Fort Erie this year, and his win percentage at the two tracks is a spectacular 46 at the Fort and 42 at Woodbine.

Six of his 13 runners at Fort Erie made the winner's circle and 3 of his 7 starters at Woodbine have won.

"Our day begins around 4 a.m., and we are busy until 8 p.m." said MacRae - the "we" referring to his partner and fiancee Tracy Hnatko.

"The two of us spend the evening checking over the condition books and spotting our horses. We also go over past performances in the Daily Racing Form.

"We prefer to place our horses where they have a good chance to win or at least bring home a check, and spotting them correctly is a very important aspect of our business."

MacRae, with a BlackBerry attached to his ear while discussing the shuffling of claimers into the right races, is a trainer on the go.

"It can be hectic, as there are moments when you need to be three places at the same time," he said.

"This year we began swimming and legging up our horses in mid-January at the farm, and we have been on the move ever since."

Chris Griffith, the second-leading rider at the Fort, has ridden four of MacRae's six winners at the meet.

"Chris is a longtime friend and a great competitor, and it is nice to see him doing well," MacRae said.

Like Richard Dutrow Jr., MacRae's performance suggests that a successful claiming barn can have a bright future.

Rain-aided track bias

Steady rains hit the Fort Erie area lately, and last weekend there was a clear track bias. Horses on the rail were struggling to keep up, while runners on the crown of the track were relishing the good going.

Horses to watch next time out are Pineapple Express, Saintly Cinderella, and Cut by the Sword. All three had against-the-bias rail trips last week.