06/29/2007 12:00AM

Trainer Calhoun's star rising fast

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - The first six months of the year have been more than productive for trainer Bret Calhoun. He not only leads the standings at his home track of Lone Star Park, but also, for the first time, he is racing a division of horses at Churchill Downs. Going into Friday, Calhoun was also only 13 wins from career victory 1,000.

Calhoun's success comes on the heels of a banner 2006 in which his stable had career-best earnings of $3,479,149. He won 180 races last year, his second highest annual total behind the 191 winners in 2005. This year, Calhoun ranked eighth in trainer wins in North America, with 88 through Thursday.

But the prize most on his mind these days is the Lone Star title. Calhoun, 43, is a native of Grand Prairie, and winning his first local title would mean a lot to him. He led the standings with 41 wins through Thursday.

"I've never been in too many positions to win titles before, and I think they are important," Calhoun said. "They're probably more important here at Lone Star than any other place because, one thing, I'm from here. And second off, it's where most of my owners are from. It's very important for us to try to win it."

Calhoun knows it won't be easy. Although he is nine wins ahead of Steve Asmussen and Cody Autrey, who are tied for second, he said it figures to be a battle from now through the close of the meet July 29.

"There's strong competition in this part of the country," said Calhoun, whose lone title came at Remington Park in 2005.

"You look in the national standings, there's a strong group of trainers from this area," Calhoun said. "Steve, he's definitely got an army to move around, and at any given time he could jump up and win 10 or 15 races in a couple of days' time. Cody's been doing very good. He's very aggressive. He moves around a lot, claims a lot. They're very tough."

Calhoun has 95 horses in training, with 50 based at Lone Star and 14 at Churchill. He also has a division of horses at Louisiana Downs. Calhoun keeps overflow horses at the now-shuttered Trinity Meadows near Fort Worth, Texas, the track where he won his first race as a trainer, on April 22, 1994.

Calhoun came into the inaugural Lone Star meet in 1997 with a stable of just four horses. The barn was led by Sweet Misty, who gave Calhoun his first stakes win in 1997. The same year, Calhoun sent out Cowboy Dan to a second-place finish in the $111,000 WHAS at Churchill, beaten a neck by eventual Horse of the Year Favorite Trick. Cowboy Dan was sold soon afterward, but not before he gave Calhoun a reputation for developing a good 2-year-old, one he still has some 10 years later.

"Our strength, basically, is with 2-year-olds," he said. "We have mainly 2-year-olds this time of year."

Calhoun has won eight races for 2-year-olds this meet, among them the $100,000 fillies division of the Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity with Maileys Cat. His other notable juvenile winners include Gold Coyote, an 11 3/4-length maiden winner for owner Clarence Scharbauer Jr. Gold Coyote earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 84, a number that might make him the favorite in the $125,000 colts and geldings division of the Texas Stallion Stakes here July 7.

Calhoun's stable is also driven by claiming horses that range in price from $10,000 to $50,000. One of the barn's best this year is Mr. Meso, who put together a five-race win streak from December to May before being claimed for $80,000 in his last start June 10.

"Mr. Meso was a dream horse," Calhoun said. "He was a barn pet. He had no breeding. He wasn't much to look at. But he just ran his race every single time you'd lead him over there. We claimed him for $17,500, ran out about $200,000 with him, and lost him for $80,000. You'd love to have a barnful like him."

Following the Lone Star meet, Calhoun will have a division of horses at Remington. He also said that once Churchill closes, he will be shipping to run at Arlington and Ellis. Calhoun said some of the Kentucky-based horses could also turn up at Lone Star.

With his stable firing on so many fronts, Calhoun is poised to keep his momentum going through the second half of the year.