12/23/2007 1:00AM

Puype positioned to get off to a fast start

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - Considering the hours he puts in at the barn, trainer Mike Puype might best be described as a marathoner. But if he has his druthers the first week of the meeting at Santa Anita, he will be a sprinter.

Puype figures to break fast from the gate at Santa Anita, so loaded is he with horses sitting on ready. Puype has six runners on Wednesday's opening-day card, including starters in all three stakes races, and will follow that up with stakes starters on Saturday and Sunday, too.

"Our plate is strong to start the meet," Puype said. "I've got to get back to winning stakes races. I feel this is the beginning of a chance to build the stable."

Puype is no stranger to running in major stakes. He won the seven-furlong Malibu, the traditional opening-day feature at Santa Anita, 10 years ago with Lord Grillo, who upset that year's Kentucky Derby winner, Silver Charm. Puype (pronounced "PIE-pea") also won major stakes with Old Trieste, most notably the 1998 Swaps Stakes and 1999 Californian.

But Puype, 41, had to rebuild his barn after a six-year stint as a private trainer for owner Gary Biszantz ended. In the fall of 2002, after returning to California from Kentucky, Puype had seven horses in his public stable. But he gradually built up his business, helped in part by sharp claims and an influx of talented young horses, and now is training more horses, 42, than he ever has in a career that began 21 years ago at Turf Paradise in his native Arizona.

"When I came back here, I had seven horses, all for Gary, and if it wasn't for him, there's no telling if I would still be around," Puype said. "But each year since, we've gradually increased our starts and our earnings. It's hard to get back together and rebuild. But I had some owners who were very instrumental."

None more so than Bob Bone, whose talent for claiming improving horses has helped trainers such as Mike Mitchell, Jeff Mullins, and Art Sherman. For Puype, hooking up with Bone reestablished a bond first forged in the early 1990s, when Puype was training in Northern California following an apprenticeship with trainer Walter Greenman.

Even though he had few horses, the earnest Puype started winning with enough regularity that more owners started sending stock his way. The momentum gathered, and more horses became better horses.

Three horses who run Wednesday - Carrilero in the Grade 1 Malibu, Wing Forward in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort, and El Manuel, who runs in an allowance race (4th race) - were purchased in South America by John Fulton, a former trainer who has become a bloodstock agent specializing in South American runners. His clients include Biszantz.

"Carrilero's a little bit of a dark horse," Puype said of the Argentine import, who is co-owned by Bone. "But he is 2 for 2 sprinting. A route is a little much for him."

In addition to those three, Puype on Wednesday has the 2-year-old colt Dee Dee's Legacy in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes (2nd race), the allowance horse Stealth Missile in a downhill turf sprint (6th race), and the $32,000 claimer Forest Phantom in the fifth race.

On Saturday, Puype is scheduled to send out Cantina's Rose in the filly division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes, and on Sunday he plans on running Gorgeous Goose in the Blue Norther for 2-year-old fillies on the turf.

Another promising 2-year-old filly, Quisisana, will soon turn up in an allowance race after a stylish maiden victory at Hollywood Park. Squallacious, an outstanding older female sprinter, will remain in training for next year.

"We've got a nice mix - Kentucky breds, Cal-breds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds," Puype said.

Puype had an excellent meeting at Hollywood Park, winning with 9 of 33 starters (27 percent) to give him 32 wins from 166 starters (19 percent) for the year. He is in a position to build on that momentum at Santa Anita. He would love nothing better than to recapture the feeling 10 years ago of winning the Malibu.

"Opening day is such a special day, just with the amount of fans at Santa Anita," Puype said. "All the races are very competitive, but we've got some good chances with some live entries."