11/19/2007 12:00AM

Timothy Keefe

EmailTimothy Keefe has a record of 13 for 145 this year (through Sunday, Nov. 18), but far more impressive is the 7-for-18 run he has been on since Oct. 4.

"Lately it seems we've just gotten back on track," Keefe said. "I can't explain it, and it's not like we've done anything differently. In the spring, I think my stable might have been a little heavy on 2-year-olds and we just weren't clicking. We had some well-bred horses in the barn, but unfortunately they didn't have much ability, and when that is the case it doesn't matter how well bred they are.

"We've been patient, and I'm glad our slump is over - at least I hope it's over. We've certainly taken our share of good-natured ribbing around here along the way."

Keefe has generally won in the 10-15 percent range and put up his best numbers in 2004 (22 wins, 15 percent clip, $2.73 return on investment) and to a lesser extent the following year (17 wins, 13 percent, $1.27), but had been a lot quieter since his latest strong run.

The star of Keefe's barn is clearly Celtic Innis, a 5-year-old homebred gelding who has won 7 of 24 lifetime starts and more than $375,000 in purses with a win in a $100,000 stakes at Delaware Park among his laurels.

"He's been the best horse I've had," said Keefe, 40, who started his first horse in 1992 and now maintains a string of 30 to 35 at Laurel Park. "He's an ordinary-type horse in the way he's built and on looks, and not a horse who would bring much at auction. I've had him his whole career, and we're proud of him.

"He hasn't raced since May, but he'll be back to us in training in about four to six weeks, and it'll be nice to have him back in the barn."

Since Sept. 12, seven of Keefe's victories have come with maidens. Three of them - Bretton ($12.80), Mister Twine ($8.80), and Smart'n Stormy ($37.80) - came off breaks of anywhere from six weeks to three months.

"Those wins weren't anything we did by design, but rather a function of horses who had a race or two where we didn't get what we expected, so we backed off, got the horse where we should be, and got the right result," Keefe explained. "My training approach is very thorough and conservative, which isn't for everyone, and I'm lucky now to have the right owners to complement that.

"Bretton was a second-time starter who ran poorly in his debut, and the owner wanted to run right back, but after talking we decided to wait a bit and it worked. Mister Twine was a horse we thought highly of all along, but he didn't put out. We dropped him in class off a break to get a win in an easy race for him, he then won again, had his confidence built, and then even followed that with a good second on another class rise. Smart'n Stormy is a well-bred filly we backed off on and got her where she should be after she ran poorly in her first two tries for us. Her win in a maiden special race was one of my better races this year."

In addition to fresh maidens, Keefe's statistics indicate he bears watching with juveniles and horses moving from turf to dirt.

"My favorite part is when the 2-year-olds come to the barn," Keefe said. "We watch them, teach them around the gate, school them in company, and put in a lot of time. It is very time-consuming and can be frustrating, but is very rewarding at the same time.

"We have a great mix in our barn - those who breed, buy young horses, claim - and we like to think we can do it all well, but developing a young horse is more gratifying to me than claiming someone else's horse and running back in two weeks."