06/24/2007 11:00PM

Mike Petro

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The weather isn't the only thing heating up in the Mid-Atlantic region during May and June. So are trainer Mike Petro's horses.

After going 2 for 47 from January thorough late April, while mostly racing at the highly competitive Gulfstream Park meet, Petro's stock has soared since Delaware Park opened on April 28.

Petro won with 8 of the the first 22 horses he saddled at the meet. That calculates to a sizzling 36 percent. From a bettor's standpoint, Petro has produced a $3.45 return on investment.

Although Petro cooled off slightly as the result of an 0 for 6 slump that began June 16, he was still 8 for 28 through June 24 (28 percent) with a $2.71 ROI.

"We gear up for the Delaware meet," said Petro, a Boston native who initially was based in New England at Suffolk Downs. "We don't really do anything different in Florida. It's just that the competition is a lot harder. When we come to Delaware there are a lot easier conditioned races where our horses fit."

Horseplayers should pay particular attention to runners owned by the Petro family-owned Coming Home Stables and the partnership 3 Best Friends and a Lawyer.

Coming Home Stables is tied for ninth in the Delaware Park owners standings with a record of 4-2-4 in 14 starts. Over the past two seasons, Petro is 8 for 44 (18 percent, $2.16 ROI) with his Coming Home Stables runners.

Petro's statistics are even more impressive with 3 Best Friends and a Lawyer, a group that comprises three New Yorkers and a Florida resident. Since January 2006, Petro has gone 4 for 13 with a sensational $3.12 ROI for that partnership.

Here are several examples of how Petro has found good spots at Delaware for his stable of modestly talented horses.

o The 4-year-old colt Liger, far back in two first-level allowances at Gulfstream and equally dismal when dropped in for a $35,000 tag at Laurel Park, woke up on opening weekend in a starter allowance at Delaware, paying $10, and came back two starts later to finally clear his first allowance condition in his fifth try.

"Liger had a bad case of colic when he was in Florida," Petro said. "It was so bad we almost lost him. It took him a long time to recover. He was just starting to get sharper when Delaware opened."

o The 3-year-old gelding Staying Single, winner of a maiden claimer at Gulfstream, was dropped $6,000 in claiming price for his first start against winners at Delaware and romped by 18 1/2 lengths at 9-2.

o Europium, a 3-year-old filly who had lost her last two starts on turf at Gulfstream by more than 28 lengths, returned to the main track at Delaware and wired a group of maiden claimers by 5 1/2 lengths, paying $11.60.

"I still think she can handle the turf," Petro said. "But the turf course at Delaware wasn't open when the meet began, so I put her on the main track. I don't know how good she is, but speed was holding very well that day and that helped her."

Petro, 45, does particularly well at Delaware with horses switching distances and in maiden claimers.

Since 2005, he is 5 for 21 (23 percent, $2.10 ROI) with sprinters stretching out to routes, 3 for 13 (23 percent, $4.16 ROI) with route horses cutting back to sprints, and 9 for 39 (23 percent, $2.51 ROI) with maiden claimers.

"Anything different can help a horse a lot," Petro said. "Horses stretching out from sprints, to put them in a position where they can get in the clear early, they seem to enjoy that. With the horses shortening up, we try to get them to relax and make a run at the end of the race."

Nearly all of Petro's horses are ridden by his brother Nick, although he occasionally will use Jeremy Rose, who honed his craft exercising Petro's horses for three years before becoming a jockey.

"My brother's the one who taught Jeremy everything," Petro said. "Jeremy's like part of the family now."

Petro saddled his first winner in 1983. Although he collected a career-high 125 winners in 1992, on a national basis his two best years were 1988 and 1989, when he finished 19th with 111 winners and 25th with 103 winners.

Petro has been among the top 10 trainers at Delaware three times since 2000. He has also finished with a profitable ROI during Delaware meets three times during that span, most recently in 2002.