11/14/2003 1:00AM

Score one for the power of customized care

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As they stood in the paddock with Unpeteable before the eighth race at Churchill on Sunday, Nov. 9, co-owner Randy Kobman and trainer Dennis Edwards felt a bit out of place.

"We're looking around, and we see horses trained by some of the biggest names in racing: D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Niall O'Callaghan, and Bernie Flint," said Kobman. "O'Callaghan is running an uncoupled entry, and each of his horses cost $1,500,000. Can you believe that? We're there with a horse we paid $3,500 for, and we felt like we could beat those guys."

Edwards, 41, has just three horses in his stable. One has been on the shelf for an extended period, and another will be returning to the races in a few weeks. Before his start in a tough allowance race Nov. 9, Unpeteable had carried the stable, with five wins in 2003.

How did Edwards turn Unpeteable, who had lost $4,000 conditioned claiming races in Ohio before being bought for $3,500, into a horse who deserved to race against opponents who cost seven figures? The answer is that he was patient, started from scratch, and viewed the horse from a fresh perspective.

"Just because the guy who had him before did things a certain way doesn't necessarily mean that was the best way," Edwards said.

After Edwards bought the horse in summer of 2002, he removed Unpeteable's front shoes to see how he stood naturally. Edwards determined the horse had foot problems that needed to be addressed. Edwards had the horse's blood tested and his thyroid count checked. He also had Unpeteable's teeth examined.

"His thyroid count should have been 12, but it turned out to be 4.1," said Kobman. "That can make a horse sluggish, and it was the most likely explanation for why Unpeteable was underweight."

Edwards believes it is important to tailor a horse's training to his individual needs.

"I've seen so many trainers over the years in big stables train their horses like they were robots," Edwards said. "Every horse is treated the same as the one next to him. They all go the same number of days between works. They all walk the same number of days, then they're back. It's like an assembly line. That's why it has always been hard for me to work for somebody else. You have to treat each horse as an individual."

With the thyroid problem and his feet taken care of, Unpeteable finished second for $4,000 at River Downs, then was jumped up to $15,000 and won. He handled the track switch when he repeated for $15,000 at Turfway.

Unpeteable regressed in his next two races, but rebounded with a win in an $8,000 starter allowance at Churchill. He was second for $20,000 at Turfway, then stepped up to $35,000 and finished third. Unpeteable closed out 2002 with a second-place finish in a nonwinners-of-two allowance race.

The goal for Edwards and Kobman has been to try to win $100,000 in 2003 while running the 6-year-old primarily in starter allowance races. Unpeteable has won 5 of 8 of those races this year, with two thirds and one off-the-board finish. He also has two second-place finishes in nonwinners-of-two allowance races at Turfway, an eighth-place finish in a Claiming Crown race at Canterbury, and a sixth-place finish on Oct. 31 in a $35,000 claiming race on the turf at Churchill.

So why throw him to the wolves on Nov. 9? Edwards thought Unpeteable came out of the Oct. 31 race well and believed that he was acting like he was ready to deliver a big effort. Unpeteable had good pace figures for most of his recent races, and his Beyer Speed Figures also pointed him out as a contender. His early speed figured to hold better on the dirt than it had on the grass at Churchill, a theory bolstered by his 2-1-1-0 record on Churchill's main track. He was likely to be overlooked at attractive odds, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and selected him on top in my graded handicap.

Unpeteable battled through the opening quarter, then grabbed a clear lead and relaxed a bit through slower-than-par splits. He held on to win by three-quarters of a length, with the O'Callaghan-trained Kasparov finishing second. The win boosted Unpeteable's record this year to 13-6-2-2, with $78,109 in earnings. He returned $19.60 to win.

If things continue to go right, Edwards and Kobman may yet reach $100,000 in earnings this year with Unpeteable. Regardless of what the total turns out to be, Edwards deserves a lot of credit for his patient and thoughtful approach to training the star of his stable.