08/30/2006 11:00PM

Nixon barn making the most of strength in small numbers

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Trainer Justin Nixon possesses an astonishing win rate of 57 percent at the Fort Erie meet. Eight of his 14 starters have returned with the gold.

With two prospective starters this holiday weekend, the Nixon outfit may boost its percentage even higher.

"I hate to predict, but I think we may have a good weekend," said Natalie Brinda, a Nixon assistant. Brinda said that if Rudnick Bear draws into Saturday's lone turf race off the also-eligible list, "I think he'll win. He's doing very well."

Rudnick Bear, who has just one eye, will likely draw in. Rain is in the forecast and a surface switch could result in scratches.

Rudnick Bear has done well on both surfaces. He won his last start, a $10,000 starter allowance on the grass. And in a previous start, he was a rallying second in the slop at Woodbine.

The stable plan was to run Stonerun, a 4-year-old filly, in a third-level allowance on Sunday, but the race didn't fill.

Stonerun won both of her races at the meet by seven lengths. For Monday, Nixon will enter Inspired Rose, a winner of her last two.

Nixon trains a Maryland division of Frank Stronach runners. That association began in 2003, when Nixon was lured to train for Team Stronach after posting a win rate of 31 percent at the Fort Erie's 2002 meet. He is based at Monmouth.

Nixon missed the Fort's 2003 season but returned in both 2004 and 2005 with a backbone of competitive Stronach runners. In 2004, with 20 scores, Nixon posted a win rate of 38 percent. Last year here, he won 13 of 24 starts for a win rate of 54 percent.

With Nixon based in the United States this summer, there are no Stronach horses among the 10 runners in Nixon's Fort Erie barn. Nixon left his Canadian division in the hands of his assistant, Brinda, 26, a native of Niagara Falls, Ontario.

"Natalie is a thorough, excellent horseperson," said Nixon. "She has really exceeded my expectations on how things would go at Fort Erie this year. It was a big step for her. We discuss what races horses will be aimed for, and it's her job to take it from there."

Brinda, whose background includes 10 years in the world of show horses with hunters and jumpers, was hired by Nixon in the summer of 2000.

"I wanted to be a trainer of hunters and jumpers," said Brinda. "And I thought there was a lot to be learned from Thoroughbred people, especially about leg soundness."

Brinda became enamored with the racers and especially stakes winner Royal Regalia, who is now retired.

"Just watching him train every day and to be part of his career was thrilling," sad Brinda. "He could make the hair at the back of your neck stand up."

* Layne Giliforte, with two wins on Monday, is second in the trainer standings. It has been a hot race among trainers this year. Nick Gonzalez leads the pack with 20 victories, two more than Giliforte. Stacey Cooper is next with 17, and Lyle Morden has 16.