12/07/2007 1:00AM

Maker warms up to wintering in Kentucky

EmailWith a stable of nearly 50 horses, a trainer based primarily in Kentucky normally feels compelled to send his better ones to Florida, Louisiana, or Arkansas for the winter.

Mike Maker was inclined to send a string of horses to Fair Grounds, but when management at the New Orleans track initially allotted him what he considered to be an insufficient number of stalls, he decided to keep all 48 horses at the Trackside training center in Louisville, Ky., for the winter.

"They called back from the Fair Grounds and offered me 20 stalls, but by then most of my clients had said they wanted to just stay here anyway," said Maker.

Although Maker said he will ship horses for spot starts to Fair Grounds, as well as Hawthorne and Mountaineer Park, he will race mainly at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. At Turfway, Maker is the co-leading trainer at the current meet, which ends Dec. 31, and he figures to have the dominant stable at the three-month winter-spring meet that begins Jan. 1.

"I hope we're in for a big winter," he said. "We're just staying here at Trackside and shipping wherever we need to."

As a longtime former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, Maker, 38, is accustomed to traveling, having overseen sizable strings for Lukas during lengthy meets at Gulfstream, Oaklawn, and elsewhere. After 10 years with Lukas, Maker opened his own public stable in 2003. He has gradually built his stable with a solid base of owners, and when he added Ken and Sarah Ramsey to his client roster a little more than a year ago, his numbers started to multiply, and his 2007 statistics are his best yet. Going into Friday, Maker's stable had won 85 races this year, and was quickly approaching the $2 million earnings mark, both easily career highs. In August, Maker enjoyed a major career highlight, winning three Claiming Crown races at Ellis Park - with Bargainwiththedevil, One Eyed Joker, and Miami Sunrise.

The concept of a consolidated powerhouse stable has been conspicuously missing at Turfway in recent winters, mostly because purses are not as lucrative here as they are for comparable races at the major wintertime tracks. If or when Turfway's purses are bolstered by alternative gaming revenues, that all may change - but for the present, nobody is banging down the stable gate trying to dominate the meet.

But circumstances being what they are, Maker wouldn't mind being the proverbial 500-pound gorilla at Turfway for the next few months. "It should work, at least for this winter," he said.

Stars Portent second, second, second, and . . .

Two entry-level allowances are among the nine races carded Sunday at Turfway, with a $24,000 sprint occupying the race-eight feature slot. Stars Portent, coming off three straight runner-up finishes at the same level, figures as the horse to beat under Victor Lebron. An overflow field of 14 fillies and mares was entered.

The other allowance, for 2-year-old fillies going a mile, is carded as the fourth race.

* Five Star Thief, a two-time allowance winner over the Keeneland Polytrack, is among the older horses expected next Saturday in the $50,000 Prairie Bayou at 1 1/8 miles. Owned by Phil Davis and trained by D.H. Skaggs, Five Star Thief won at 51-1 and 15-1 at Keeneland before being defeated twice at the recent Churchill Downs meet.

* Bill Downes, the race-caller at Beulah Park and Presque Isle Downs, was one of three Turfway contestants who won berths last weekend in the ninth annual National Handicapping Finals at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas next month. Downes was the high scorer among 254 contestants and earned the $6,350 top prize.