11/05/2007 1:00AM

Trainer posts solid results despite small stable

EmailHorses and racing have always been in Paula Bacon's blood.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's, her stepfather, Johnny Bacon, was a fairly successful jockey at minor-league tracks until he died in a car accident at age 26 in 1977. Her mother, Susan, still grooms horses.

Bacon obtained her license as a hotwalker at Ellis Park when she was just 14 and later spent a decade as a jockey, riding at Ellis, Turfway Park, Churchill Downs, Canterbury Park, and Tampa Bay Downs.

Although she was successful enough to win 518 races from 1993 to 2002, including 103 in 1995, Bacon had to give up riding because of chronic back problems that developed after a horse fell on top of her in the starting gate at Beulah Park.

She then switched roles and became a jockey's agent, handling the book for Bobby Walker Jr., and David McFadden at Mountaineer Race Track for two years.

"I made great money, but I didn't like the job," Bacon said. "I always wanted to be a trainer, but I didn't know how to go about it."

Fortunately for Bacon, she found a local owner, David Walters, who was willing to hire her to train his horses. But when Walters got out of the business, she was left without a single horse.

Again, good fortune shined on Bacon. Richard Englander, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation's leading owner, gave her four horses to train for him, and Chicago trainer Wayne Catalano sent three horses to her.

Bacon, 35, has proven she knows what she's doing. Operating a stable consisting mainly of older claiming horses, Bacon won with 25 percent of her starters in 2006 and is winning at a 21 percent rate this season. Although she has only about two dozen horses, Bacon ranks fifth in the 2007 trainer standings at Mountaineer with 32 wins in 140 starts (22 percent).

Two of her main clients are Englander and the Aces Full Stable, a group from New York directed her way by trainer Scott Lake.

"I train for two good claiming people," Bacon said. "They pick them out, and I can take 'em or nay 'em."

Englander is particularly sharp at spotting horses he thinks would be worthwhile to claim.

"He picks out great horses," Bacon said. "I sometimes ask myself, 'Why does he like this horse?' but I always look at the ones he picks and I usually take them."

Bacon's horses are mainly stabled at the Meadowview Training Center, located about 12 miles from Mountaineer, just across the Pennsylvania border with neighboring West Virginia. The facility has a pool, which she said is beneficial, especially for those horses with physical problems.

Bacon is 23 for 104 (22 percent) with Englander's stock since Jan. 1, 2006. Percentage-wise, she has been even better with horses owned by Aces Full, going 14 for 46 (30 percent), and another of her clients, Lori Rice (13 for 35, 37 percent).

Rice and her husband, Brett, breed their own horses. In the early 1990's, the University of Florida's veterinary program owned Guarded Optomist, but she was scheduled to be euthanized.

Brett Rice, an equine scientist at the university, took her home instead. Guarded Optomist, an 18-year-old unraced daughter of Spend a Buck, has now produced nine foals. The youngest is an unraced 2-year-old filly. All eight of the others have been winners, including Guardianofthegate, whom Bacon rode to victory in the 2001 Columbia Stakes at Tampa Bay.

Guarded Optomist also produced two other good runners currently in Bacon's barn. The 6-year-old gelding Guardianofthenorth is a six-time winner who just missed in the $85,000 West Virginia Speaker's Cup on this summer's West Virginia Derby undercard. The 7-year-old mare Afleet Angel has won nine races lifetime and finished second in two turf stakes this season.

Bacon said she is currently in the market to acquire fresh stock. She intends to take about six or seven of her better horses to Oaklawn Park this winter and will be shopping for suitable claims there to strengthen her stable. She said she feels she must upgrade her stock in order to be competitive when Presque Isle Downs reopens for its 2007 meet. Presque Isle, a sister track of Mountaineer, is located in Erie, Pa., about a two-hour van ride for Bacon's horses, and offered purses of roughly $500,000 per day at its inaugural meet in September.

In addition to the runners she saddles for Englander, Rice, and Aces Full, bettors should pay attention when Bacon ships to Thistledown, where she is 4 for 14 (28 percent) this season. She also excels with horses making their first start following a claim (35 percent, $2.06 return on investment), second off a long layoff (30 percent, $2.02 ROI), horses cutting back from routes to sprints (25 percent, $2.12 ROI), runners who won their last start (28 percent $2.09 ROI), and allowance horses (29 percent, $2.57 ROI).