06/14/2001 11:00PM

Trainer Cooper finds her winning niche


FORT ERIE, Ont. - It took Stacey Cooper just five tries to score her first win as a trainer. And she did it with style Monday at Fort Erie by winning with a first-time starter, Sophie's Bold, in a maiden special-weight race. The

4-year-old colt, with leading rider Chris Griffith aboard, returned his sparse backers $24.60 for a $2 win wager.

Cooper, 28, was born and brought up in Fort Erie. "I came straight to the track from high school. It seemed the thing to do. I always loved horses and I was riding while I was a wee kid," she said.

Cooper worked for veterinarian Brian Van Arem, who is also a trainer, for about a year. She had considered being a veterinary assistant and had applied at some colleges but didn't follow through. "It was good experience but it wasn't exactly what I wanted. The trainer's license was a better option for me."

Work stints with other trainers began 11 years ago. Laverne Seifried was the first. Others were David O'Connor, Roger Attfield, and Armand Concessi. She worked for Attfield, who was five times honored as Canada's outstanding trainer, when his 2-year-olds were housed at Fort Erie. She spent a year at Woodbine galloping runners.

Cooper's last two years of employment, before she got her trainer's license last fall, were with Concessi, whom she praises as an excellent teacher. Concessi finished tied for fifth in the Fort Erie standings last year with 24 wins and a tidy win percentage of 24 percent.

While working for Concessi, Cooper made friends with Nick Meleni Jr., who was working as a groom. Meleni, who has a degree in economics was first into racing as an owner five years ago when he won two races with Captain L.

The two teamed up as the On Top Racing Stable and claimed two runners - Swift Intention and Semper Fidelis - as the 2000 season was ending. Swift Intention and Semper Fidelis became Cooper's first trainees. During the winter Fred Vormitagg was picked up as a client and he supplied two runners, one of whom was Sophie's Bid.

"The other one is a half-brother to Sophie's Bid. And he hasn't run yet. He'll run in about a month," said Cooper. "He's one of the better movers I've been on - even out of the Woodbine stock. He's not much upstairs but his action is good."

While Cooper and Meleni were ecstatic about Monday's win they were brought back to earth the following day. Their Semper Fidelis finished far behind in a $5,000 claimer. They were very confident of his chances and had predicted he would run big. It was his third start for the barn. They lost Swift Intention on May 13 for a $5,000 tag - the same price he was obtained for. It was his second start of the year. He finished second