05/13/2010 11:00PM

Saitz lucky in more ways than one


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Trainer Garry Saitz is off to a strong start at the Hastings meet, with two wins from five starts, and he is looking for a big performance from Maximiano in the fourth race Sunday. A 4-year-old gelding by Storm Victory, Maximiano won twice and placed twice from four starts last year, and he is a neck and a head away from being undefeated.

"I think he's the real deal, and he runs hard every time," Saitz said. "He's doing very well right now, and if we're lucky he'll beat a pretty solid group of horses Sunday."

Maximiano goes in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance sprint on Sunday. He hasn't raced since being beaten a neck by Rooster City in an allowance race here last October.

"I thought he might have a little problem, so I couldn't train him leading into his last race, and he just got beat by a nice horse," Saitz said. "It turns out he didn't have a problem, and he has come back better than ever."

Lucky is a word Saitz uses a lot. He probably would not have taken up training full time if a tree hadn't fallen on him in Malakwa, B.C., in 1985. At the time, he had his own logging company in Armstrong, B.C., and he was active as a tree-faller.

"I am very lucky to be alive," Saitz said. "The stump was about 40 inches wide, and the tree was probably 130 feet long. My mother used to pray for me when I went to work every day, and I think that's the only reason I survived. It just defied logic that I could walk out of there. It split my hardhat in two and took a big chunk out of the side."

Saitz, 64, came away with serious injuries, and his tree-falling days were over. But instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for himself, he jumped into the horse racing business feet first, landing a job as the racing secretary for the interior circuit in British Columbia.

"It was interesting, and I get along with people very well," he said. "But I got a little tired of it. I remember one trainer coming up to me after he had won three races in a row, complaining that he had nowhere to run. It was a tough grind. We only had about 100 horses to work with."

Saitz and his wife of 42 years, Sharon, owned a farm in Armstrong at the time, and they decided to get more involved in racing as owners and breeders.

"It was funny," Saitz said. "Sharon was terrified of horses. When I brought a stallion home, she told me that she wasn't going to go anywhere near him. It didn't take long before she was the one leading him around the farm."

Because of Saitz's bad back, he isn't a hands-on trainer. He leaves that to Sharon.

"My strongest trait is that I get along very well with the horses," he said. "They all seem to like me. But because of my back, I can't do the work, so I am the one who oversees and organizes everything. Sharon gets right in there and does the hard work. She's fantastic, and, really, Sharon and the horses are what keeps me going."

Saitz said he almost stepped away from the horses when Sharon came down with a serious illness three years ago.

"She had flesh-eating disease and was in a coma for 28 days," he said. "She's also lucky to be alive. When she came out of the coma I told her I was going to quit the horses so I could help her recover. She wouldn't have any of it. Because of my back, she knew I would get crippled up if I didn't get up and around going to the track every day."

Saitz not only credits Sharon for the success he is having now, he also thinks he has excellent people working for him.

"I had pneumonia a few weeks ago, and Sharon had to stay at home to take care of me," he said, adding that Shawn Lawson took over running the barn.

Saitz also points to the work of jockey Ruzaan Choksey.

"Choksey really has a good hand with a horse," Saitz said. "He can get them to relax better than anyone I know. I have this 3-year-old that I think is a runner, but he's a bit wild, and nobody would get on him more than once. Choksey been working with him for about a week, and he almost has him okayed from the gate now. Amazing."

Perspective is everything in life. Some people would react with bitterness if their career was taken away from them at a relatively young age. Saitz has a different view: "I'm lucky."