01/05/2009 12:00AM

Trainer profile: Damon Dilodovico

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Damon Dilodovico, 43, has 21 horses in training at Bowie training center in Maryland, and a review of his recent numbers suggests 2008 was a career year and he bears watching in the new year.

Dilodovico won 31 races from 133 starts (23 percent) last year - the win total and percentage just shy of his best in both categories in 1993 - and easily hung up career-best numbers in earnings ($677,000) and in-the-money percentage (60). As 2008 wound down, Dilodovico's placed his stock with precision and was rewarded. From Nov. 29 through Jan. 2, for example, he sent out nine runners at three different racetracks and won four races with four second-place finishes.

"In the beginning of the year, you probably couldn't find us," he said. "It can be a game of peaks and valleys, and we just weren't clicking. Our horses weren't getting the right races to go, things like that. I don't think we changed a whole lot, things just fell together.

"Obviously, I think we are using our conditions properly and being aggressive with our spots. All of the horses have been doing well and performing. The simple fact of the matter is that I believe we just have some better horses in the barn right now."

The stock upgrade wasn't accidental, but more accurately and by in large because of some shrewd claims.

Dilodovico made 13 claims throughout the year, and during the spring added an important trio of runners to the barn for a total of $32,500. Let Me Be Frank cost $5,000, and has since won a pair of restricted stakes races as well as an allowance. Swear Allegiance, plucked for $7,500, is also now a restricted stakes winner and has finished on the board in each of his six starts for her new barn. Lastly, Taint So, a $20,000 claim, has won 2 of 4 starts and finished third in a $100,000 Charles Town stakes in October.

"We started looking at horses with more ability," Dilodovico explained, and added his clients changed philosophy somewhat on claiming. "In the past, we targeted maidens and some nonwinner-of-two types. Often, they'd run through conditions, and then you were done. I think we've improved some, and done it in steps.

"We try to peek at as many videos by watching replays on horses, and I think that's our main tool in claiming. Plus, we are at the track every day and clocking in the mornings. The 'sheets' also help us by getting a better idea. Our owners are involved and we discuss the horses and their races. We tend to turn down a lot of potential claims and try to be patient."

In addition to claims, and perhaps more specifically claims who have been freshened up, bettors should pay attention to Dilodovico's runners when they stretch from sprint to route distances (43 percent, $2.73 return on investment).

"I hadn't realized our sprint-to-route numbers until one of our owners, Robert Cole, pointed it out to us," Dilodovico said. "I spent some time trying to figure it out, and maybe we do some things a bit differently. We have made some small changes in our training. Generally, I think we train our stock a bit easier than some of our fellow trainers by not breezing as much, but we do put miles on them in the mornings. We try to balance it as best we can, and at the same time treat the horses as individuals.

"I think the real reason for our success with distance runners is we just found a group of horses that thrive at a distance. I would love to think it is something we are doing. . . I mean, Love's Strong Hart in our barn, he's a sprinter. Even if the best distance trainer in the world had him, he's not going long."

Dilodovico said he has developed his training program over the years by molding information and lessons learned from trainers Dale Capuano and John Hartsell, as well as longtime veterinarian Dr. Jeff Palmer.

"I got my start with Dale, and learned from both him and John," he said. "John helped me a lot with how to place horses, and also with conditioning. He believed in keeping horses fresh - he was a very good high school athlete and would often compare horses to humans - the way he put it was the more he did on a Tuesday, the worse he'd feel on Wednesday, so you have to be careful.

"Dr. Palmer taught me plenty from the medical side and in overall care of the horse. He deserves a lot of the credit for what we've done."