08/30/2009 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Bill Connelly


This summer at Ellis Park, Bill Connelly reached a notable milestone for a trainer - winning 1,000 races. Connelly, however, has no illusions about picking up another 1,000.

"I don't know if I'll live to be that old," he said.

This past spring he might have wondered if he would ever win his 1,000th race. After winning his 998th race with Go Lydia Go at Indiana Downs on May 6, he went winless with his next 32 starters before Just Memories gave him win No. 999 on June 22 at Indiana Downs. Then he had to go through 18 more losses before Button Dancer reached the 1,000 milestone for him when she won a maiden $30,000 claiming race at Ellis Park on July 17.

Such losing streaks are the exception for him. Connelly, 53, training since 1980, has consistently won at a high percentage, compiling a 15 percent win mark throughout his long career.

This year, even with a pair of losing streaks, he is winning at a 13 percent clip - with 57 percent of his runners finishing in the money.

The reason for his success? "Dedicated owners and dedicated employees," he said.

Beyond that, he said, his aim is merely to keep his horses "happy and sound, which can be tough on both ends."

Based at Turfway Park, near his Union, Ky., home, Connelly is well situated for shipping horses everywhere in this region - within Kentucky, to West Virginia, Indiana, and even Pennsylvania - which is one reason why he wins at a high percentage.

Particularly in the summer, when there are more tracks running, this gives him the opportunity to spot his horses favorably.

But nowhere does he run as many horses as at Turfway Park. Over the past 12 months, nearly half of his starters have been there.

Connelly said he is at Turfway because of its close proximity to his home, and because the track's synthetic Polytrack surface has eased the troubles of training there during the harsh winter months.

"The Polytrack is not the greatest in the world," he said. "But it is a hell of lot better than what they used to have. They'd lose so many days - it was horrendous. Now that's behind us."

Since his 24-horse stable is filled with a number of 2-year-olds, Connelly isn't sure what to expect from his barn during the upcoming fall meet at Turfway, which begins Sept. 9 and continues through Oct. 8.

"Some are ready, some aren't," he said of his juveniles.

Fortunately, he does have some proven synthetic runners in his barn, including Button Dancer. After she gave him his 1,000th win, she went north to Presque Isle in Erie, Pa., and won a $25,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer there over Tapeta on Aug. 27.

Connelly also plans to send some horses down to Kentucky Downs in southern Kentucky to race on the grass in September, such as Brilliant Bid, a winner of two in a row on the grass at Ellis Park this summer.

Other proven grass runners for Connelly include the stakes-placed Hungry Tigress, and Just Memories, a turf sprint winner at Indiana Downs.

One horse that won't see action this fall at either Turfway or Kentucky Downs is Ohio Star, winner of the Miss Ohio Stakes at Thistledown in her last start Aug. 22. An Ohio-bred 2-year-old Pioneering filly, she has been turned out in preparation for a 3-year-old campaign, Connelly said.

While she is away, Connelly will test the waters with his other juveniles, hoping there is another bright prospect in the group.