05/31/2009 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Ben Perkins Jr.

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Longtime followers of New Jersey racing can remember a time when any first-time starter sent out by trainer Ben Perkins Jr. would, more often that not, open up as a heavy favorite on the board. Those that didn't could generally be ignored on parimutuel tickets, as Perkins's first-time starters that were going to run well were no secret on the backstretch, and there were many of them. Much like his father before him, Perkins was a known force when it came to 2-year-old firsters, and his runners were bet accordingly.

Times have changed, however, as Perkins is focusing more on developing his horses rather than churning out fast sprinters who win early but fail to progress further.

"We've changed our philosophy a bit," said Perkins, who trains for several breeding outfits, though his main client remains New Farm and owner Ebby Novak. "We're trying to bring them along more slowly. It's easy to get a horse honed to a fine edge - work them fast, maybe with an older horse, hustle them out of the gate - but with firsters now, I tell the jocks, 'Let him settle and see what you've got.' It's more of a learning experience."

The barn is winless with its last 32 first-time starters, but those stats don't reflect the fact that 12 first-time starters have run second for Perkins over the past two years, and 35 of the 98 firsters from this barn have hit the board since 2004.

Despite his reputation as a trainer strong with young horses sprinting, a surprisingly strong angle for Perkins continues to be with stretch-outs, or horses moving from sprints to routes. Over the past five years, Perkins shows a flat-bet profit ($2.47 returned for every $2 wagered) with stretch-out runners as well as with routers overall (20 percent winners, $2.81 return on investment). Also, horses off a modest layoff of 31-60 days are good plays, with Perkins clicking at 21 percent and sporting a $2.30 ROI, either turf or dirt. Combining those two angles, however, provides the best returns. Perkins has won at a 32 percent clip (9 for 28) with horses coming off a layoff of 31-60 days and stretching out from a sprint to a route, with a superb $5.35 ROI over the past five years. That includes a 4-for-8 record (63 percent in the money, $8 ROI) with such runners since last year.

"I didn't know our [route] stats were that good until I saw them in the Form," Perkins said. "The layoff stats are probably just a part of what we're trying to do now, give them room to develop and take more time."

Perkins's record with stakes sprinters is skewed a bit thanks to the brilliance of New Jersey-bred Joey P., who has seven such wins since switching to this barn, but Perkins does well with such runners overall, with 14 stakes scores with other sprinters over the past five years.

The addition of blinkers has not worked well for horses from this stable, with Perkins winning with 4 of 41 horses making this change over the past five years, but there is an angle on which to capitalize: all four winners were 5-2 or below. In fact, Perkins was winless with all 27 horses adding blinkers that were 3-1 or more, and that's a recurring theme for all horses from this barn, which has always been the case: when they're bet, they're live.

Over the past five years, Perkins has saddled 53 runners who have gone off as the odds-on favorite, and an exceptional 29 of them (55 percent) have won. Even more impressive is the fact that 43 of them, or 81 percent, have hit the board. The numbers get even better when the stats are restricted to horses who have run exclusively at Monmouth as Perkins wins at 57 percent with odds-on horses there (17 for 30). Further, Perkins is 8 for 10 with odds-on favorites at Monmouth with Joe Bravo riding, with Joey P. accounting for three of those wins.

Actually, Perkins delivers with any horse that's below 2-1, winning with 42 percent of such runners (70 for 168, 74 percent in the money), and the win percentage increases to 48 percent ($2.20 ROI) when considering only route races. It only gets better at Monmouth Park, with Perkins routers on the dirt going off at 2-1 or less clicking at 55 percent (80 percent in the money, $2.53 ROI), making such runners nearly automatic plays.