09/06/2009 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Bruce Levine


Bruce Levine, 54, long known for his consistency and success since the early 1980s primarily on the New York circuit, is somehow both hot and cold right now. At Monmouth Park, he is easily the meet's leading trainer, with 43 wins through last weekend and a 35 percent win rate, while at Saratoga he's 1 for 47, with eight second-place finishes going into the final day of the meet. Of course, he's not the first good trainer to simply have a snakebit Spa stand.

"Last year, overall we just had a super year," said Levine, who set personal career bests with wins (188) and purse money earned ($6.5 million) in 2009. "With Bustin Stones and a couple of others winning some stakes races for us, we had a great year where everything just seemed to gel.

"This year hasn't been quite as good, but our numbers (99 wins, $3.2 million) are okay, considering we've taken on the training of more 2-year-olds, which makes things tougher. Those races are harder to win, and quite often you won't have the flexibility you can have with older claiming horses.

"At Monmouth now, we're killing 'em, mostly with claiming horses, but at Saratoga we just had some young ones that haven't come around yet and lost a bunch of photos with some tough luck. We did have Go Go Shoot run second in the Vanderbilt and we obviously wish we could've knocked out a couple more to have an okay summer. I'm sure it'll turn back around as long as we can just keep running them when they are ready."

Levine has about 75 horses in training, split nearly equally between New York and New Jersey, and he believes the two-headed monster approach gives him an edge.

"I think running two divisions gives me a lot of flexibility and helps my hand," said Levine, who spends the bulk of his time in New York with occasional trips to New Jersey, primarily to oversee training. "We have a very good crew, and with two divisions we can find the right spots for the right stock. You try to watch races, replays, and scout other trainers and their moves - it's like playing cards and you just try to evaluate who has what. You need to then evaluate your hand properly and play it out the right way - having good owners and getting horses at the right levels helps. When I claim, generally I'm looking for useful horses, either with conditions or maybe with something I see I can do different, such as maybe adding blinkers or something."

Levine's numbers with horses he sends out for the first time - via claim or trainer change - are remarkable, and he's also profitable via blind bet in many other categories, such as turf to dirt and blinkers on.

While Levine can be very aggressive with much of his stock, he also is a well-rounded horseman who is taking a patient approach with developing his younger stock.

"I like to buy a two-turn horse that I feel will ultimately get a distance of ground when I look at young stock," he said. "I've been concentrating more on younger horses now and want to develop good ones, not so much horses that will just burn five and half or six furlongs. Like everyone else in this business, you look for that Kentucky Derby horse."

While Levine can win with a beginner and juveniles - El Rocco, for example, won his debut and then finished second in the Tyro Stakes - a blind bet on the following 2- and 3-year-olds who gained debut experience without threatening at Saratoga might not be a bad move: Bawana Jake, Driven by Power, Healthy Debate, Jim's Applemartini, Nonna Mia, and Run to Grand Ave.

"I think a couple of my 2-year-olds from Saratoga should really move forward off their first starts," said Levine, who does connect at 26 percent ($2.43 return on investment) with maidens in their second start.