05/12/2008 12:00AM

Pattern of winning

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Traveling through the Triple Crown tracks each spring can be more than a one-day exercise in stakes-race handicapping. Fact is, all three tracks, Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park, offer good supporting race cards before and after the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont stakes. They also provide numerous wagering opportunities for astute locally based players and those willing to do a little research into winning trainer patterns.

At Pimlico, for example, many players in America probably know about the legendary King Leatherbury, a winning trainer for more than 40 years who attracts considerable betting action. But few may realize how profitable it can be to look for certain types of horses trained by less famous trainers Michael Trombetta, Hamilton Smith, Ryan Beattie, and Rodney Jenkins.

Trombetta, who has an amazingly potent and quite profitable record with first-time starters - including those he ships into New York - is more often a profitable play on his home track with second-time starters, or whenever he is linked with jockey Julien Pimentel, who has emerged as one of Maryland's best in recent years.

Smith, a Maryland staple for many years, is a very low-percentage trainer with layoff types, but his return on investment usually is above the break-even point with horses making their turf debut, sprinters he puts on the grass or in claiming races, and horses stretching out in distance from a sprint to a two-turn route.

Beattie, from a family of trainers that has been successful for decades at Penn National in central Pennsylvania and Charles Town in West Virginia, has done quite well with horses he has trained at the old Bowie racecourse, which remains a training facility for Laurel and Pimlico. While Beattie does well with low-level allowance-class sprinters, Beattie's most profitable pattern is with horses making their second start after a layoff of 45 days or more.

Jenkins, one of several Maryland-based horsemen with Olympic-class jumpers in his background, is profitable with his absentees and grass horses, especially absentees making their debut or return to the grass. Jenkins, in fact, has shown close to a 50 percent profit margin with such plays during the past few years.

At Churchill - which is continuing its eight-week race meet with a good mix of stakes and one of the best claiming and allowance race programs in the country - it is hard to escape the potency of high-profile trainers Tom Amoss, Dale Romans, Steve Asmussen, Ken McPeek, and Michael Maker, who saddle many horses and win a high percentage of their races, often at unplayable odds. Yet, even these prolific winners have a specialty or two that consistently deliver straight-up profits.

Maker is extraordinary with repeaters (horses who win and come back to do it again); Amoss has a profitable ROI with claiming horses and with horses switching from synthetic surfaces to the turf; McPeek has a few positive ROI moves and is among the strongest in the country with horses switching from synthetic tracks to dirt or turf.

Asmussen, whose army of horses tends to slightly outperform the net loss for betting winning favorites, has one clear cut profitable pattern: When he uses jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, a solid journeyman who does not attract nearly the amount of play given to Robby Albarado, who rides Horse of the Year Curlin for Asmussen.

Romans also wins often on this circuit, while producing a net loss in almost all categories. Yet, he, too, has one area that commands extra attention: Romans shows substantial flat-bet profits with all his horses making their second start after an extended layoff.

These nuanced trainer patterns are so specific that they sometimes seem to resemble voodoo handicapping, but the underlying point behind them is that good trainers develop patterns of success that sometimes trump normal handicapping, or at least point out horses that are likely to be stronger than conventional handicapping approaches will uncover.

At Belmont Park, where we may see a tension-filled bid for a Triple Crown sweep on June 7 - pending Big Brown's performance in the Preakness at Pimlico on Saturday - the high quality of daily racing attracts dozens of accomplished trainers with multiple winning tendencies.

The list includes Hall of Famers Allen Jerkens, Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey, Bobby Frankel, and Nick Zito, plus multiple Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher and the prolific Gary Contessa, Bruce Levine, Kiaran McLaughlin, and the brothers Dutrow - Rick and Anthony.

But, as we have seen elsewhere, some of these top-of-the-line horsemen can deliver surprisingly generous payoffs in clearly defined situations.

Specifically, watch out for first-time starters trained by the venerable Jerkens, who has been producing flat-bet profits with newcomers for more than a half-century. In recent years, Jerkens also has outperformed the odds with horses making their second start after a layoff and when he teams up with jockey Javier Castellano in a variety of situations.

Speaking of profitable jockey-trainer relationships, McGaughey always uses good riders but tends to get generous prices with horses he gives to Castellano. Zito's horses tend to outperform their parimutuel odds when he uses jockey Cornelio Velasquez. Pletcher, who is building a Hall of Fame career, regularly uses John Velazquez on most of his horses, but from a horseplayer's standpoint, does much better with Garrett Gomez or Eibar Coa.

McLaughlin, a profitable trainer in many categories, is sensational with repeat winners and with horses making their second start after an extended layoff. Frankel is notoriously deadly with shippers, especially those stepping into stakes after showing promise in allowance company.

Levine has his best ROI in maiden claiming events. Contessa, New York's leading trainer in total wins, shows profits with newly acquired horses and with horses he brings back to the races after a lengthy layoff, as in six months or longer. Anthony Dutrow has profitable numbers with horses making their second start after a layoff, while brother Rick, who has done such great work with Big Brown, is a longtime profit producer with newly acquired stock.

While all of these high-profile New York-based horsemen certainly have profitable patterns that may be worth steady play, they are not alone. In fact, there are at least two dozen other trainers on this circuit and a like number in Maryland and Kentucky who have clear-cut winning tendencies that players can uncover through a minimal amount of research using Simulcast Weekly statistics and/or the flexibility provided by Formulator 4.1 on the DRF.com website.