04/15/2007 11:00PM

Southern California trainer maintains strength at top of class ladder

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He won the Belmont Stakes with Touch Gold to foil Silver Charm's Triple Crown bid. He won the Breeders' Cup Classic with Alphabet Soup, spoiling a repeat attempt by the great Cigar. He won the Queen's Plate with Awesome Again. And, just a few years ago he won the Breeders' Cup Distaff with Adoration. You'd think a man who had accomplished all that and more would be instantly recognizable. Yet show his face on a television monitor and there are many who might say "Who's that?"

Well, those who play Southern California know Dave Hofmans when they see him, and they know they better pay attention when he shows up in a race, any race.

Hofmans, 64, has been a fixture on the West Coast for some time, posting his first victory at Santa Anita in 1974 with Nu Kali. A classmate of his at Pasadena City College - trainer Gary Jones - gave Hofmans, who was already a racing enthusiast, an in-depth look at the game and Hofmans was hooked. He went to work as a groom and hotwalker for Gary Jones's father, the late Farrell Jones. Through the years he's maintained a consistent profile and, as you'd expect from a horseman who has had an impact at the highest level, he's effective playing most any game.

Success when making changes has always been the sign of a quality horseman. Hofmans's numbers in many categories regarding a change are strong. For example, he's a 27 percent winner first time on turf and 29 percent going from straight maiden to maiden claiming. He's 21 percent going dirt to turf and 21 percent turf to dirt. He's 17 percent when adding blinkers, 14 percent when removing them. Distance change is no problem either - 20 percent sprint to route, 11 percent route to sprint.

As you'd expect he has strong numbers up and down the class ladder - with one notable exception. He's 20 percent with maiden claimers, 11 percent with straight maidens. He clicks at 22 percent in allowance races, 17 percent in stakes and 19 percent in graded stakes. Oddly enough, however, he's zero for his last 18 in claiming races. Go figure.

Balance is certainly the stable star. Winner of the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita last month, she's being campaigned specifically with the Breeders' Cup Distaff in mind. Hofmans already has said she'll have a light campaign meant to have her geared up for the big day at Monmouth later this year.

One of his best training jobs may have come with Greg's Gold. The big gray won the 2005 Bing Crosby at Del Mar, stamping himself as a premier sprinter. But he bowed a tendon and didn't race again until recently. It was worth the wait. The 6-year-old Greg's Gold blasted a strong group of allowance horses at Santa Anita. He returned in the Grade 2 Potrero Grande BC Handicap on April 7 and finished second to Smokey Stover, quite likely the best sprinter in the country.

"He impressed me in that allowance win," Hofmans said. "There were some tough horses in there and I thought maybe he was going to need the race, being down in the 1 hole and all that. But he showed that he's back to his old self.

"I've never had a horse of this quality out this long. He's been very, very sound, but we did a stem cell surgery on his right front tendon. He bowed in the Bing Crosby. This is the third horse I've run that's had a stem cell procedure that's made it back. I think this surgery will benefit horses in the future."