09/25/2003 11:00PM

Pagagar, Roche Rock still lively at 12

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Two popular 12-year-old runners at Fort Erie have shown they are not yet ready to be put out to pasture. There is even the likelihood they will return to race next year.

Pagagar, a winner of nine races and $378,527, and Roche Rock, a 12-time winner who has earned $381,615, are thriving. Both have won at the meet.

The connections of both have made it known that the runners are healthy and most happy when they are in the racing environment. They love to train and compete.

John Staples was scheduled to saddle Pagagar in a $12,000 claiming race Saturday. Owned by Aliped Stable, Pagagar finished fourth in his previous start, in a starter allowance race on Sept. 1.

Roche Rock was on the also-eligible list Tuesday and was scratched from the $14,000 claiming race when it was taken off the turf. Roche Rock won his last start, Sept. 14, a bottom-level claiming race at five furlongs.

Myckie Neubauer, who owns and trains Roche Rock, was sixth in the trainers standings with 21 victories heading into the weekend and is winning at a 30-percent clip.

Neubauer became the sole owner of Roche Rock last year when she bought out her partners in the gelding. They decided to cash in their chips, feeling that Roche Rock's earning power was diminishing too rapidly for their liking.

"Roche Rock is a pet; I just love him," Neubauer said. "He's my favorite. And he's also the favorite of everyone else around here.

"And he's a fan favorite. And as long as he's healthy, and happy training and racing, we will race him. It won't matter if he doesn't pay his way."

Copeland barn more manageable

Jimmy Copeland, 54, has been at the racetrack for 30 years, 28 of them as a groom. Last fall, he embarked on a career as a trainer.

"We started with five this season," Copeland said. "Then I just got crazy and took on anyone who asked. Soon I had 16 horses. I had them all over, in four different barns. It was a nightmare."

Copeland said he was overwhelmed, unprepared to handle his bulging business that came from his low rates and quick success.

"One month my bills totaled $6,000 - the next month it was $16,000," he said. "I was scared. When I had just a few horses I would do everything myself and make a living."

Teetering on collapse, Copeland raised his rates and reduced his stable size.

"Now we're at a comfortable 10 and they're stabled close together," he said.

Copeland has won nine races at the meet and heads into this week's racing with a win rate of 19 percent.

* With three wins on Tuesday, leading rider Martin Ramirez rang up his season win total to 100, 31 more than runner-up Neil Poznansky.

Ramirez, a native of Mexico, is gunning for his second consecutive riding title. He won 127 races last year.