11/02/2005 12:00AM

Stiritz, Zook part company


Former pet food magnate Bill Stiritz, a septuagenarian who owns Fairmount Park as well as a large, thriving stable of racehorses, has parted ways with his longtime trainer, Jimmy Zook.

"He tells me he wants to train them himself," said Zook, who declined to comment further.

"I wouldn't put it exactly that way," said Stiritz. "I've never been a passive owner. At my stage in life, I need complex games, and with this one, there's about as much complexity in this as anything I've been involved in. It has not only the quantitative, but the flesh-and-blood dimension. I'd say I'm going to have heavier involvement, but I'll be using public trainers in Chicago and Oaklawn."

Zook has trained exclusively for Stiritz since 1998. During that time they have combined to win 195 races from 1,006 starters, good for $2.69 million in earnings. This year, Zook and Stiritz have won 31 races from 134 starters together, for purse earnings of $541,545.

One of Zook and Stiritz's most successful moves this year was claiming Mr. Mabee for $17,500 at Hawthorne on April 15. In his first two starts for Stiritz, Mr. Mabee won a $27,000 allowance race at Arlington Park and the $122,000 Claiming Crown Emerald at Canterbury Park.

For the time being, Stiritz will continue to allow Zook some stable space at his Belleville, Ill., training facility. Since word broke, Zook has already spoken with some potential St. Louis-based clients.

"I have a bank president who has two or three horses and wants to claim another one, and a couple more people who've called me from St. Louis," said Zook. "They're basically Fairmount people who want to race out of town with some nice horses, which we've done very well over the years."

"It was a good time to make a change," Stiritz said of his split with Zook. "I have nothing but respect for the job that he's done."

Zook's jettisoning comes amid Fairmount's decision to voluntarily cut its meet back to less than 100 dates for the first time since World War II. Fairmount raced 102 days this year but has reduced its schedule to 90 days in 2006.