11/04/2008 12:00AM

Maker keeps adding to breakout season


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The list of D. Wayne Lukas former assistants with major training accomplishments already includes such standouts as Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Hennig, and Dallas Stewart.

It took Mike Maker a little while, but now the 39-year-old Michigan native is looking like he, too, belongs on that elite roster. On his own since spring 2003 after working under Lukas for about 10 years, Maker had made an occasional impact as the trainer of a public stable, winning the 2004 Hawthorne Gold Cup, the 2006 Lane's End Stakes, and three races on the 2007 Claiming Crown card.

But 2008 seems to be his breakout year. Heading into this week of racing at Churchill Downs, Maker already had surpassed his career highs with 106 wins and more than $2.5 million in stable earnings. Moreover, with some 85 horses at his disposal, Maker was the leading trainer at the recent fall meet at Keeneland and appears to hold a very strong hand as the Churchill fall meet is unfolding. Through the first six days of action, Maker led all trainers in wins (9) and starts (21).

"We're just trying to take care of business," Maker said.

Winning or tying for leading trainer at both Keeneland and Churchill in the fall is not particularly rare - it has been done in seven of the last 20 years, involving Lukas on five of those occasions - but a sweep by Maker this fall would seem to stand for something big. Unlike some former Lukas assistants whose gilded forays into training allowed them to bypass the sometimes unsavory chore of trading horses in the claiming ranks, Maker has thrived in that mode while working his way up the ladder. Ken Ramsey, with about 60 horses in the Maker barn, is his primary client, and Ramsey likes nothing more than action.

"I think the world of Mike," Ramsey said. "He's a super guy to deal with. We're on the same page 99 percent of the time. We work together extremely well."

Maker's late father, George, was a perennial top trainer in Michigan. Mike worked for his father until 1991, before joining Lukas in 1993.

Maker, whose stable currently is split between Turfway Park and the Trackside training center in Louisville, said he will have horses this winter at Gulfstream Park in Florida, where he once worked as a Lukas assistant for several years.

"They've given me 26 stalls at Gulfstream," he said. "We'll run a lot at Turfway, too."

Leparoux undecided on winter plans

After the Churchill meet ends Nov. 29, the majority of jockeys riding here will scatter to Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, or Turfway. Julien Leparoux, a three-time Churchill champion who led the rider standings after the first week of the meet, is undecided where he will go.

"It's between Fair Grounds and Florida," said Leparoux's agent, Steve Bass. "We're having a tough time deciding. It depends on a few different factors."

Last year, Leparoux went to Southern California, where he met with limited opportunities and modest success. He then fared considerably better after moving to the Fair Grounds in mid-January.

Wismer giving exposure to others

After veteran trainer Glenn Wismer had a terrific summer at Presque Isle Downs by winning with 22 of 95 starters, his horses started running in the name of his son Troy or his brother Norman upon their return this fall to Kentucky.

No, Glenn Wismer didn't die, and he hasn't been suspended. He explained this week that he had enjoyed "a good enough year" and that his son and brother "need some exposure, too."

Wismer said he plans to leave Nov. 20 for Tampa Bay Downs, where the horses will resume running in his name when the meet begins Dec. 13. Wismer enjoyed his greatest career win at Churchill when Luv Me Luv Me Not won the 1992 Kentucky Oaks.

Track honors fallen Kentucky soldiers

When people look out at the Churchill infield and see the American flag at half-staff, they invariably ask: "Who died?"

The answer: Kentucky soldiers serving overseas. Churchill, like Keeneland did at its fall meet, is following state protocol on honoring the fallen heroes. With few exceptions, the flags are at half-staff here because protocol calls for them to stay that way from the period a soldier dies until he or she is returned to be buried, and that often takes a long time.

More information is available at www.governor.ky.gov/flagstatus.htm.

* With Veterans Day, Nov. 11, falling on a Tuesday this year, Churchill opted to card races on that day instead of what had been a fall-meet rite, racing on Election Day.