Updated on 09/16/2011 8:25AM

Not just for handicappers

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A bystander overhearing a conversation between two men on Monday would have thought they were talking about baseball. One rattled off statistics at the other, quoting percentages and monetary figures.

But the subject was not the home runs and salaries of Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. It was the records and earnings of the two men, both successful Churchill Downs trainers.

One was delighted by the other's success, and the other was delighted that his peer was noticing him.

It is easy to forget that other people are looking at trainer statistics. So are trainers and owners.

With that in mind, I produced the accompanying chart. It lists the top 20 North American-based trainers based on earnings through May 21, and their win percentages in graded stakes and all stakes since Jan. 1, 2000.

Importantly for handicappers, it includes their return on investment based on a $2 bet in these stakes - a valuable tool when wagering. A trainer with a high ROI has horses who are consistently outrunning their odds.

One thing to point out before getting to the data: These numbers are in part a reflection on the quality of a trainer's horses. So barns heavily loaded with claiming horses fall short in these statistics compared with those with classier stock.

Having noted that, the findings confirmed that Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, who have combined to win seven of the last nine Preakness Stakes, are skilled stakes trainers. Baffert has won with 23 percent of his graded stakes runners, and Lukas has shown a profit with such horses.

The profitability of the high-profile Lukas is surprising, given his success over the years and striking pedigrees of many of his horses. He is very good at taking shots in big events - as he has demonstrated with Proud Citizen this spring.

Along with Lukas, others trainers showing a profit with graded stakes runners are Bobby Frankel, Niall O'Callaghan, and Cole Norman (from a limited sample). Their horses often exceed the public's expectations.

What was discouraging from a betting standpoint was that only four of these 20 leading trainers showed a profit in graded stakes. To some extent, they were victims of their own success. The public knew of their achievements, and wagered heavily on their horses.

To find more rewarding returns, handicappers may wish to look beyond the top 20.

John Ward, for example, has won at a 22 percent rate in graded stakes since 2000. A $2 bet on each of his 67 runners would have yielded a profit of $125.20 - a number boosted by Forest Secrets's $102.50 payoff in last year's Acorn.

Pat Byrne, of Favorite Trick and Awesome Again fame, also maintains great stakes numbers, although he does not have the top-flight horses he did in the late-1990's. He has won at a 21 percent rate in graded stakes, and shows a $3.52 ROI. Donnie Von Hemel is also becoming a player on in stakes around the country (35 percent, $3.10 ROI).

Von Hemel, a Midwestern trainer who has dealt with mid-level horses for much of his career, is starting to get more opportunities now that he is one of the trainers for Pin Oak. See How She Runs won the Grade 1 Selene Stakes at Woodbine Monday for him.

To find these trainers who slip through the wagering cracks, keep an eye on the statistics at the bottom of the past performances and keep another eyed glued to the trainer standings. As we already know - the trainers are.

The money trainers

Here are the top 20 North American-based trainers in earnings, listed by winning percentage in graded stakes races and all stakes races.

Return on investment is given for $2 bet on all of their horses in each category.

Trainer Gr. Stk Win% $2 ROI All Stk Win% $2 ROI
B. Frankel 24 $2.21 27 $2.36
B. Baffert 23 $1.68 23 $1.48
K. McPeek 22 $1.50 21 $1.39
N. O'Callaghan 19 $2.42 17 $2.67
M. Hennig 18 $1.50 20 $1.55
B. Mott 18 $1.25 20 $1.34
T. Pletcher 17 $1.58 20 $1.65
N. Drysdale 16 $1.59 18 $1.71
R. Mandella 15 $1.69 21 $1.76
S. Lake 15 $0.82 23 $1.67
W. Lukas 14 $2.16 14 $1.97
C. Norman *14 $2.17 23 $2.09
J. Kimmel 13 $1.52 19 $1.96
J. Bond 13 $0.97 15 $1.20
D. Vienna 12 $1.89 13 $1.46
E. Walden 11 $1.24 15 $1.32
S. Asmussen 11 $1.19 17 $1.45
R. Dutrow 9 $0.93 15 $0.93
J. Hollendorfer 6 $1.28 14 $1.16
G. Contessa **0 $0.00 10 $2.47

*Based on a limited sample of seven races.

**Based on a limited sample of 10 races.