07/25/2005 11:00PM

Puglisi's spree pays dividends

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Jeffrey Puglisi's first foray into Thoroughbred ownership was memorable if not successful.

In 1993, Puglisi and a few poker-playing buddies decided to claim three horses in Southern California and run them at Turf Paradise in Arizona, where they lived.

"The first one died in his stall the night before his first race at Turf Paradise, the second horse was heading home down the stretch when the bridle broke and the jockey almost fell off, and the third one I think he's still in a swimming pool in Flagstaff,'' Puglisi recalled Tuesday morning.

Puglisi, 46, had gotten out of the sport by the time he moved his family and his securities/investment banking business to Manhattan in 1997. Four years after getting back in the game, Puglisi and trainer Steve Klesaris have put together one of the most formidable stables of young horses on the East Coast. After spending approximately $5 million on 23 horses at the 2-year-old in training sales, Puglisi has gotten a rapid return on his investment.

Puglisi's 2-year-olds have gone 6 for 6 in maiden races this year. Among those maiden winners is Master of Disaster, who is the likely favorite for Thursday's Grade 2, $150,000 Saratoga Special at Saratoga. At $600,000, Master of Disaster was Puglisi's most expensive purchase.

Two of Puglisi's other first-out winners, Little Miss Zip and Cajun Mistress, were scheduled to run in Wednesday's Grade 2, $150,000 Adirondack Stakes for juvenile fillies.

Diabolical, a 9 3/4-length maiden winner at Belmont on July 7, is being pointed to the Grade 1 Hopeful here on Aug. 27. Speed of Sound, who won his maiden before losing the Grade 3 Flash by a head, is headed to the $70,000 Aspirant Stakes at Finger Lakes on Aug. 20. There are no plans yet for Dazzling Dot, who won her maiden at first asking by a neck Sunday at Delaware Park.

Cat Criminal, who was scheduled to debut Wednesday, and Park Avenue Prince, a son of Siphon pointing to a race here Saturday, are others who will be seen at this meet.

Puglisi got back in the game in 2001 when he had claiming horses with Frank Laboccetta Jr. The following year he moved his stable to Rick Dutrow Jr., before he and racing manager Bill Castle teamed with Klesaris to start a new venture.

"I decided to put some serious capital behind this business with the understanding that you had to do this on a larger scale to be successful,'' said Puglisi, whose stable numbers 72 horses. "Definitely there are the situations that got lucky out of the box, but I figured I had to spread my risk, so to speak.''

Puglisi was the fifth-leading buyer of 2-year-olds last year, spending $3.39 million on 21 horses. While horses such as Mighty Mecke, Arch Enemy, and Right Daddy won, they got to the races much later than his juveniles this year.

Puglisi and Klesaris credit this year's early success to being able to train at Fair Hill training center in Maryland. In addition to offering a serene atmosphere, Fair Hill has a dirt surface as well as a woodchip track that gets horses legged up quicker.

"It allows you the liberties to train a horse the way every trainer wishes you could train one,'' Klesaris said. "It's a peaceful environment. I can spend a little more time with them there than I can at the track. From that standpoint it has allowed us to give them more education and develop them at the rate we want to.''

Klesaris, who has been involved in racing for more than 25 years, is a minority owner in Puglisi Stables as well the trainer. It is an arrangement Puglisi and Klesaris mutually agreed upon.

Klesaris, 45, said he has owned a piece of horses that he trains all his life because it's difficult for a trainer to make money just on the day rates and a percentage of purse earnings.

"If you're good at what you do, then own them yourself,'' said Klesaris, who has 30 horses at Fair Hill, 30 at Delaware, and 10 here. "I can't afford to go spend $4 million on racehorses, but I can afford to be a piece of that.''

In previous partnerships he was involved in, Klesaris would develop a young horse and promptly sell it for a nice profit. Three recent examples were Buckle Down Ben, Booklet, and Hennie's Song.

Puglisi's objectives are different. He has turned down offers as a high as $2 million for some of his horses, though he knows there may come a day when he would sell.

"I'm definitely opportunistic and understand that the time does come for the need to sell, but I would like to take this beyond the maiden ranks right now and campaign a horse,'' Puglisi said. "The ultimate goal would be to own and race a champion, and I think we're always open to offers, but right now we're sitting in a pretty good position that we would like to ride out.''