05/11/2010 11:00PM

Much riding on one horse in trainer's reprise

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AUBURN, Wash. - As a little fish in a small pond, Greg Moore has learned to manage expectations. Good thing, too, because the 50-year-old trainer has only one race-ready horse at Emerald Downs. But that horse, Moore says with guarded optimism, has a chance, a chance, to be exceptional.

The horse is Noble Juan, a late-developing 4-year-old son of Cahill Road who exited the maiden ranks May 2 with a visually impressive victory going 5 1/2 furlongs. Hemmed in behind a wall of horses from the quarter pole to inside the eighth pole, Noble Juan and jockey Inoel Beato finally found a seam along the rail and kicked through to win going away. Though his Beyer Speed Figure came back on the light side, a 60, Noble Juan seemed capable of much more.

If all goes as planned during a scheduled workout Saturday, Noble Juan would start next in a first-level allowance race a week from Sunday. Because the race includes a $50,000 claiming option that opens it up to multiple winners, it is a daunting spot for his first try against winners.

"It's a tough deal," Moore said. "If he was 3, it wouldn't be an issue, but as an older horse, you have to run against some horses that have a couple of wins under them. But we're pretty confident. We're trying not to have too high of hopes, but we're looking to have some fun with the horse."

Moore jumped into racing in 1976 when he went to work for trainer Howard Belvoir. But by 1990, after stints at Longacres with Belvoir, David Hayen, and Bob Meeking, he was forced to alter course, putting aside his training aspirations for a job as a computer draftsman.

"I caught wind they were going to sell Longacres," he said. "I had a wife, Ellen, a young daughter, and a baby boy. I told my wife that if I didn't have a stable by 30, I was going to get out of it. So in 1991, I got my degree and I didn't touch a horse for 14 years."

Moore helped raise his kids and dove head-first into his jobs in civil and construction engineering. He worked for a firm that did preliminary drafting for Emerald Downs, which was built to replace Longacres and opened in 1996. In 2007, with his sister, Anne Wisdom, as his business and equine partner, he made the transition back into racing.

A year later, Moore and Wisdom purchased Noble Juan, then a 2-year-old, from prominent Northwest breeder Dave Reising, who had been ill and died shortly after the transaction. Moore tried to resist, but Reising cut them a deal they couldn't refuse.

"I hemmed and hawed," Moore said. "But my sister went up there and said, 'Greg, we gotta buy this horse.' "

Though it was more than a year before Noble Juan made his first start, he instantly became the centerpiece of the operation. Since 2007, Moore has started just 33 runners and saddled three winners. Ms Elly M won a bottom-level maiden claimer in 2007, and Bury the Hatchet took a $3,500 claimer last September. He has seven stalls at Emerald, only five currently occupied, with an unraced 3-year-old and three unraced 2-year-olds sharing feed with the main attraction.

With so much small consolation, you'll forgive Moore for dreaming big with Noble Juan, who was 26-1 in his debut but only 7-2 in his maiden victory.

"We gave him the one shot last year," Moore said. "I didn't have him schooled that well, and he finished third. This horse has never been outworked in his life. You can start him 10 behind and he'll breeze up to them and outwork them."

Moore still has his day job, working out of offices in Auburn, a short drive from the track. On a typical day, he gets to work at 6 a.m., leaves for the track at 8, trains horses until 11, and then goes back to the office and works as long as he needs to. He's a part-timer, but it's more than a hobby.

"This is a passion of mine," he said. "I've had some trouble keeping horses sound. When you have 50 head and one or two go down, you don't think about it, but when it's your only one or two, it's tough. I try to stay positive. I try to keep strong and calm. Things happen at the track that are out of your control, so you have to be patient. Don't be in a hurry.

"I've been lucky enough to win three races. The intent when I got back into this was to build a client base. I want to train horses. I feel I have the ability to train horses, but it's tough to find clients. You need a Noble Juan. I'll try to do the right thing with this horse, and if they come along, that's fine."