09/21/2008 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Armando Lage


Armando Lage's life story is one shared by many trainers.

"I was really born in the business," he said. "My father was a trainer. I grew up at the racetrack. My dad would bring me in the morning when I was very young, and, when I was in school, I spent every weekend at the track. I watched my father everyday.

"There's not a school, not one place you can learn about training. You learn just by being around. You can see how it goes from father to son like Billy Morey, Steve Sherman, and Jamey Thomas here."

The 51-year-old Lage, a self-admitted "hard-core racetracker," can't imagine doing anything else. He loves horses and says he "pretty much" likes all aspects of the business.

Consistency is a Lage trademark. He has saddled 1,087 career winners through Sept. 18, winning at a rate of 14 percent, and he is winning at 14 percent this year. Whether turf or dirt, route or sprint, maiden or winner, his numbers are remarkably similar.

His instructions to jockeys always are geared to winning, even when he could be a comfortable second.

"I don't like to run for second," he said. "I give everything to try to win."

He works at putting his horse in the right spot, even though he says, "Unfortunately, economics don't always allow you to."

Lage is good with new faces, but deadly in the second start off a claim, long layoff, or with maidens.

"My job as a trainer is to try to make horses run a little better," he said. "Watching a horse improve is my biggest thrill."

Patience is a key, and observation is a must in the Lage barn.

"Horses are like people," he said. "Some are shy, some are aggressive. I try my best to get to know them and then make the right moves. Then, hopefully, the horse responds and runs better. It takes time to decipher what they like to do. The ones toughest to decipher are the most satisfying."

Lage doesn't miss a day at the races, using his powers of observation to help make claims. He watches horses both when they come to the paddock and, just as importantly, how they leave the track after a race. He looks for signs of improvement, the color of the horse, or if the horse is being entered at the right distance.

"When I claim a horse, I want to move him up," said Lage, who is not into the rapid turnover that some barns don't mind.

"I don't just drop them to win a race. It's a challenge to see if I can improve them and move them up."

While his winning ratio off the claim is that familiar 14-percent figure, he wins 25 percent in the second start off a claim, returning a tidy average of $3.15 per runner.

He is also sharp with quick turnarounds of a week, a move he seldom makes but is 3 for 3 with over the past two years. He says he can "see in the eyes the next morning" after a race if a horse would be capable of the quick turnaround.

The power of observation leads to another strong barn move. the addition of blinkers, which is a profitable move for bettors as Lage wins 26 percent of the time when putting blinkers on.

"Horses a lot of times may train great, but in a race with a lot of horses they look around and are more concerned with the other horses," Lage said. "With blinkers, they pay more attention to running."

And paying attention is what Lage does best.