12/04/2006 12:00AM

Trainer profie: John Morrison

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Even the most casual horseplayers are familiar with names like Todd Pletcher, Bobby Frankel, and Bob Baffert, but serious bettors make it their business to find out just as much about the under-the-radar trainers who consistently send out winners while John Q. Public is looking the other way.

One such trainer on the New York circuit is John Morrison, a 44-year-old native of Albany, N.Y, who has more than held his own against the big boys since going out on his own in 1998.

"I'm a small outfit with a dozen horses or so at any one time, and the majority of my competition has 50 horses or more," said Morrison. "I have to make the most of what I've got."

Morrison broke in under such astute horsemen as Mike Bell, David Whiteley, Richard O'Connell and Rusty Arnold, and came to New York in 1999 at the behest of Jeffrey Tucker.

"He asked me to come back here in '99, and I've been back ever since," said Morrison.

Tucker and Morrison don't have the resources of the designer name-brand operations, but they hit the big time with Acey Deucey. A New York-bred daughter of Abaginone, Acey Deucey was purchased by

C D & G Stable as a 2-year-old in training for $35,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale in April 2004, and acquired by Tucker and Morrison after winning a maiden race second time out that fall. As a 3-year-old, Acey Deucey won three stakes, including the Grade 1 Prioress and Grade 2 Comely, and more than $345,000.

"Acey Deucey turned out better than we could've imagined," said Morrison. "We got her at the right time, and everything broke the right way."

This year's big horse for Tucker and Morrison is Red Zipper, a versatile 3-year-old son of City Zip who notched his maiden win on Aqueduct's inner track last winter and then won turf allowances at Saratoga and Belmont before winning the Cormorant division of the New York Stallion Series on Aqueduct's grass course in the fall. Red Zipper's respective win mutuels for those triumphs were $29.40, $14.20, $9.20, and $22.60.

"He really came to hand the second half of the year," said Morrison, who noted that Red Zipper is scheduled for a freshening. "He's still growing - we're hopeful as he gets older, he gets better."

Red Zipper has helped Morrison break into the plus column in several statistical categories, and Acey Deucey did likewise, paying $28.60 for her Prioress score and $51.50 for winning the Dearly Precious. Other winners like first-time starter Imelda Blue ($19.40), Quiet Rendition ($30.20), Verona Dale ($21.60), Keuka Maid ($13), and Rhythmn Master have also fattened the wallets of observant trainer handicappers.

Rhythmn Master, a 3-year-old who won a starter allowance ($21.80) at Monmouth Park before winning a $75,000 claimer ($17.60) at Belmont in October, ran second at 5-1 in the $75,000 Northern Dancer Stakes at Laurel on Nov. 18.

"You might see him in an allowance race [in New York]," said Morrison. "He's a solid little horse."

Among Morrison's specialties are stretch-outs (4 for 15, a $4.76 return on investment at this writing), and layoffs in the 31- to 60-day range ($3.69 return) and 61- to 180-day range ($2.66).

"I usually try to have them close to being ready to go," Morrison explained. "I don't like to take them over there unless I think they've got a legitimate shot. Usually they're competitive - if not, I try to find them a better spot."