12/11/2006 1:00AM

Small, low-budget stable churns out consistent profits


Few trainers play the Thoroughbred game the way Walter Bindner does. Once a claiming trainer, Bindner now spends more time inspecting horses at yearling and 2-year-old sales than he does checking out legs in the paddock before races, and his low-budget approach to buying young horses is, somewhat surprisingly, working just fine.

Bindner, a former jockey, summers in his native Kentucky and winters in Louisiana, and with only 114 starters and 20 winners during 2006, his is not a name exploding into the national consciousness. But for horseplayers who follow Kentucky tracks and Fair Grounds, Bindner is worth getting to know. Daily Racing Form publishes past performance trainer stats in 25 different categories, and in the 23 where Bindner has started more than one horse during the last two years he shows a positive return on investment in 16 of them. In his last 192 dirt races regardless of category, Bindner is a 17 percent winner with a $2.22 ROI that beats the flat-bet takeout rate.

With an outfit that's only going to get 16 to 18 stalls at Churchill or Fair Grounds, Bindner's operation is all about maximizing the return on the runners he has.

"The fact is we don't have many," said Bindner. "I may train differently if I had 50 or 100 yearlings come in every year. Then, you could move them along faster without that much regard. That's why I'm always amazed at the people that will send horses to one of those factory trainers - we like to think of our products as hand-made, not off the assembly line."

Bindner, who grew up in Louisville, saw fairly early in his riding career that weight was going to be an insurmountable issue. He was a contract rider at the time for a trainer named Robert Harris, and in 1973 started helping Harris train the horses, too. By 1974, Bindner was out on his own.

His early stables were put together exclusively at the claiming box, but over time, Bindner partnered with owners more interested in buying and developing young horses than in claiming older ones. Now, Bindner claims almost nothing and buys almost everything, coming up with several useful horses and a couple quite decent ones every year, and doing so on a shoestring budget.

"We're way below median in what we spend," Bindner said. "I love to go to sales. It seems like it's a matter of accomplishment to do that, to go up there and try to buy for $25,000 and under. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of that, and I think I'm able to pick out a decent horse. I buy a lot of grass horses - the American market doesn't spend a lot on them."

Bindner credits hands-off owners for letting him move horses along at the pace he wants, and Bindner's modus operandi is to get horses fit and ready to fire soon after they make the races. With first-time starters, Bindner wins at a strong 17 percent, but his ROI in that area is a tremendous $3.49. With those less-than-fashionable pedigrees and low published sales prices comes value in debut races. Bindner also shows strength with 2-year-olds in general: a 15 percent win rate and a $2.47 ROI.

But the time to get the Bindner maidens is when they debut; with second-time maidens, Bindner has won with only one of his last 21 starters. Other soft spots include dirt-to-turf runners (0 for 21) and first blinkers (0 for 13). But the Bindner file could still change, since Bindner still is paying attention to his craft.

"Each year I learn that I know less and less about horses," he said. "You're always astonished and amazed with what some of them can and can't do. I think everybody comes up under the assumption they know everything."