03/03/2008 1:00AM

Small stable produces for main client and bettorsP


Volume, Mike Mareina does not have, not now and not ever in a training career that dates to the late 1970s. Confidence in his ability to break and train horses, and put them precisely in winning spots - that's Mareina's game.

Bettors may not get to know Mareina well, since his horses don't appear that often. In 2007, he started just 57, but 12 of them won, and Mareina showed a flat-bet profit of $2.81 last year. At the ongoing Fair Grounds meet, he has won with 7 of 20 starters for a robust $5.04 ROI. That boxcar figure is in part due to the long-odds win of a maiden named Gallantprospect, but the point is, Mareina is likely to send out other Gallantprospects in the coming months, and those paying attention may reap future windfalls.

Mareina is from California, but now operates a farm in Florida, while racing in Louisiana, Texas, and perhaps more at Remington Park this year. He dabbled at Woodbine in 2004 and 2005, saw his win percentage drop in the second of those two years, and wound up on an entirely new circuit the next season. This is what Mareina does: adapt and survive.

Mareina's focus is currently on young horses, and he has experience in that. In California, back in the 1980s, he would buy inexpensive youngsters and try to turn a quick profit. To do so, Mareina needed to get them good enough to win and attract attention.

"We'd buy some cheap horses, get them together, and then flip them," Mareina said. "That's kind of what I like to do. Everybody likes to have a good horse, but I've been there too many times when that good horse comes out of the stall and he's pointing that leg, you take X-rays, and it's over."

Mareina's main client right now is Ernie Kuehne, a Texan who likes action, something Mareina knows how to provide.

"The thing you've had to do is keep them alive and keep them in the game," Mareina said. "If they're in the game, you're in the game."

Mareina actually dropped out of the game back in the 1990s after an ill-timed move from Northern California to Washington. He came back in the late 1990s as an assistant to trainer Bobby Frankel, and was back out on his own in 2000. Mareina raced at various venues in his first few years back at the helm, but has now more or less settled into a stable pattern with Kuehne.

"It's mostly buying yearlings," he said. "I don't buy older horses any more, don't claim. I see a lot of pedigrees. I see things on mares I knew or I even had. I'm in the third dams by now. It's interesting. You'll see little things that can give you an edge, knowing that they'll have speed, be early maturers."

Gallantprospect's longshot score has skewed Mareina's stats, but they still bear out his story. In maiden claiming races, Mareina has won with 35 percent in his most recent sample in DRF trainer stats; in maiden specials, his strike rate is 22 percent, with a $2.08 ROI. In allowance races, 27 recent starters have produced 5 winners for a $2 ROI, and with horses coming back 31-60 days after their last start, Mareina has won with 10 of his last 24 starters. Again, the ROI here is skewed because of Gallantprospect, but the $5.38 number is eye-catching.

Gallantprospect, it so happens, went the way of many Mareina horses: He won, and then was privately sold. But Mareina and Kuehne also will wait on a horse, if he seems worth the time. Won Awesome Dude "had serious issues" that kept him from starting his career for the better part of a year. Mareina took his time, and Won Awesome Dude has had an excellent Fair Grounds meet.

"I feel like we have a well-rounded deal right now," Mareina said.

Mareina is breaking and schooling his own yearlings and 2-year-olds in Florida, and continually is scouring sales for lower-end purchases he and Kuehne either can pinhook or get to the races. His name won't be on a major-track marquee anytime soon, but Mareina has no problem with that.

Said Mareina: "I'd like my epitaph to say, 'He never was a Hall of Fame trainer, but he made a living at this game for 30 years.' "