03/31/2006 12:00AM

From 'no shot' to leader of the pack

Ramon Preciado

When highly successful Philadelphia Park-based trainer Bob Camac was murdered in December 2001 and some four dozen of his horses were dispersed, Ramon Preciado was left with almost nothing.

Preciado, the younger brother of Philadelphia trainer Lupe Preciado, had served as Camac's assistant for three years. With Camac gone, Preciado suddenly was on his own for the first time. From what had been a full barn, just one horse trained by Camac was left in Preciado's care.

"When he died, I was ready to give up," said Preciado, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, who came to the United States in 1981. "I figured I had no shot."

Fortunately for Preciado, one horse was all he needed to prove to himself he could do the job. Go Rail Go won three races in a five-week period and five races overall after coming under Preciado's care.

Although the number of horses in his stable remains modest and are mostly middle- to low-level claimers, Preciado has managed to rise to the top of the Philadelphia Park trainer standings at the current meet.

Racing a string of about two dozen horses, many of them recently claimed for $10,000 or less, Preciado has 33 wins in 93 starts at Philly Park through March 30, seven ahead of Jayne Vaders, and eight in front of Bob Seeger and the perennial powerhouse barn of Scott Lake.

Preciado said he is hopeful he can remain atop the standings, but admitted the numbers are not in his favor.

"It's tough to beat a guy like Lake. Lake's got 200 horses," said Preciado, exaggerating for effect. "I've got 23."

According to Lupe Preci-ado, Ramon's confidence has grown just as his stable's winning percentage has steadily risen from 11 percent in 2002 to 35 percent this year.

"Now that he's winning and getting more horses, Ramon feels a lot more comfortable with what he's doing," Lupe Preciado said. "He's much more loose."

Ramon Preciado's success stories include Notimetoquit, a 5-year-old mare he got in a seven-way shake out of a $7,500 claiming race at Monmouth Park last September. She has won five races for Preciado, including an overnight stakes at Aqueduct on March 22.

Preciado, who will turn 40 in June, paid his dues working for trainers Stan Hough and Angel Penna in New York, then spent several years as an assistant to his brother.

Preciado's big break came when he hooked up with Victory Thoroughbreds, a partnership group headed by Lou Cacchio.

Cacchio, who retired last May after 30 years in the food business, formed Victory Thoroughbreds in January 2004. He originally approached Lupe Preciado about becoming the group's trainer.

"Lou came to me, but I told him claiming horses is not my thing," said Lupe Preciado. "I told him that my brother Ramon has the ability, he's a hard worker, and he's ready to go out on his own."

Cacchio and Ramon Preciado have clicked as a team. Since 2004, Victory Thoroughbreds has an overall record of 51 wins in 209 starts (24 percent) with 50 percent in the the money and earnings of $642,001. So far this year, Preciado has gone 12 for 30 (40 percent) with the group's horses.

Victory Thoroughbreds currently has 10 horses and is looking to add perhaps another five. Working with a modest budget, Cacchio's goal is to claim horses he and Preciado believe can turn a quick profit.

Cacchio said he has a 10- to 20-point checklist he runs down when considering a potential claim. The number-one rule, he said, is to identify a horse who can run back and win at a higher level within about three weeks.

Preciado said what he looks for is extremely basic.

"You want a sound horse," he said. "If a horse looks sound, you can do a lot of things with him."

Among Preciado's successes for Victory are Susie's Poker, who has won four in a row at age 5, including three legs of the winter starter allowance series at Philly Park; Home Hill, a 6-year-old mare who was taken for $7,500 and came back 13 days later to win for $12,500; New York Token, who has won four times, including a first-level allowance, since he was claimed for $7,500 last September; and Two Sparks, a 6-year-old gelding who reeled off three consecutive wins, including one against allowance runners, after being claimed for $5,000.

Preciado has not yet attained the level of success of his late boss Bob Camac, or that of his brother Lupe, but considering he started from scratch, you don't have to be an optimist to recognize that his barn is half-full rather than half-empty.