03/26/2007 12:00AM

Small stable has its horses ready to run at Keeneland


While growing up in Kentucky, it didn't take Phil Sims long to learn which career path he wanted to follow. He earned his trainer's license at age 18, and has been practicing his craft for 27 years.

"My father had broodmares when I was a teenager, and we'd race a few fillies now and then," Sims said. "Some of the young fillies didn't get in foal, so I started training them, a couple at a time, and it snowballed from there."

Sims doesn't claim many horses. He focuses on buying yearlings at auction and on training homebreds raised by his clients. His average auction purchase is in the $25,000 range, so he can't afford to buy any trendy pedigrees.

"I like a strong, sturdy, hard-knocking dam, who raced a lot of times and won often, even if she wasn't running in top-class races," he said. "Maybe she won seven races and $150,000 the hard way, in claiming races. I like stallions who were sturdy and ran several times, who were successful going the classic distance."

Sims has 18 horses in his barn at Keeneland and another 16 2-year-olds on the farm. He said he believes in a hands-on approach, and he means that literally.

"I feel each horse's legs every day, check their coat, and see if they are cleaning up their feed tub," he said. "I want to know how they are doing each day. I don't want to have so many horses under my care that I can't give them lots of individual attention."

His best horse is Joe Got Even, who was purchased by Sims for $25,000 after his reserve price was not met at auction. Joe Got Even finished a fast-closing third in the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway on March 24. If he stays healthy and can accumulate enough graded stakes earnings to get into the race, Joe Got Even could make his presence felt in the Kentucky Derby. The 1 1/4-mile distance should suit him well.

If that scenario doesn't pan out, Sims knows there are other appealing options.

"There are still a lot of other good races to shoot for with a nice horse like this, like the Ohio Derby and other stakes races," said Sims.

Meanwhile, the Keeneland meet is just around the corner, and Sims is excited about it. He started 10 horses at Keeneland in October. His horses were well placed, as 50 percent of them finished first or second, with 2 wins and 3 second-place finishes. Sims expects his horses to make about 20 starts at the spring meet.

How does he prepare for Keeneland?

"I like to back off on my horses during the last few weeks of the Turfway meet so they'll be fresh and ready to run well when Keeneland opens," Sims said.

His statistics show the value of an occasional freshening. When his horses are rested for 31 to 60 days they win at a 26 percent rate, with a $2.43 return on investment.

Sims does well with horses who are new to his barn, with 3 wins from 6 starts, and a $5.40 ROI. He has also enjoyed a 50 percent win rate with first-time blinkers, with a $3.33 ROI on 3 wins from 6 runners off such a move. But he has fared best with first-time Lasix, with 2 wins from 2 starts and an $18.90 ROI. Watch out when his horses are going well. His last-out winners repeat 23 percent of the time, with a $2.56 ROI.

When asked which of his likely starters at Keeneland bettors should pay special attention to, Sims mentioned Marquee Delivery, who finished second at Keeneland last fall in her debut and has been off since that race. Total, the filly who beat her, has since become a stakes winner. Marquee Delivery is also training well for her return.