01/27/2006 12:00AM

Third time the charm for Gill


Walking home from work one day in Salem, N.H., Michael Gill got wet and chilly after slipping into a frozen brook. Rockingham Park was the closest place to get warm and dry. With $20 in his pocket, he bet a straight exacta that won, earning a $260 payoff. Hooked as a horseplayer, Gill vowed someday to build a racing stable of significance and started in earnest in 2000 after succeeding in the mortgage business.

Since then, Gill has been a major player with a stable dominated by claiming-caliber horses. In 2005, Gill was the North American leader for the third straight year in both earnings ($6,397,180) and wins (351) - although those numbers pale in comparison to his totals of 2004, when his stable earned $10,811,631 and 486 wins. His win total in 2004 was just eight short of the single-season record set by Dan Lasater 30 years earlier.

Among Gill's stakes winners in 2005 was Umpateedle, who won the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont and the Grade 3 Endine Handicap at Delaware.

This was the third straight year that Gill was nominated for an Eclipse Award as outstanding owner. Clearly, the third time was a charm, since he was passed over in favor of Juddmonte Farms in 2003 and Ken and Sarah Ramsey in 2004 - a result that seems somewhat curious when one realizes the Gill runners earned more in both of those years than in 2005, a year in which he cut back drastically on the number of horses he claimed while also substantially reducing his breeding stock. Gill received 75 first-place votes, narrowly outpolling Melnyk Racing Stables (64 votes) in a category in which 11 other persons or stables received votes.

At the Eclipse dinner Monday night in Beverly Hills, Gill spoke with gratitude for finally winning and with bitterness for the prior snubs. He went out of his way to thank the people of Maryland racing for being his friend "when friends were few," an unmistakable reference to how he was shunned by various other racing jurisdictions for infractions real or imagined, and he concluded his speech with a cryptic comment about how he has intentionally begun to phase himself out of the sport altogether. "I am going to miss racing," he said, "and I think racing is going to miss me back."

Gill, 50, lives in Windham, N.H. He has employed numerous trainers through the years, including Mark Shuman, Gamaliel Vazquez, Jerry Robb, Phil Schoenthal, Kenny Cox, and Nick Canani.