04/14/2009 12:00AM

Trainer profile: Darrell Vienna


Darrell Vienna has a psychology degree from UCLA. He's a published essayist and poet. He obtained his law degree and was a practicing attorney, at times representing horsemen in litigation. He was a professional rodeo rider and horse-show trainer in his younger days, and even had a script become a television screenplay for the police drama "Hill Street Blues." Oh, and he's a pretty darn good Thoroughbred horse trainer, too.

It may be that diversity that has aided him in his training, bring a different perspective to the daily grind and toils in the barn. The 62-year-old Vienna has been working the backstretch on the Southern California circuit for more than 30 years, guiding the fortunes of numerous top horses. Trained by Vienna, Gilded Time won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on his way to an Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old. He showed that form was no fluke when he came back the following year, after injury, to run third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Top horses such as Fly Til Dawn, Star Parade, Belle's Flag, Short Sleeves, and Janet have added to his trophy case.

He has had success up and down the class ladder, on different surfaces, at various trips. In fact, through the years he's been marvelously consistent.

Surface has meant little. Over the past few years he has hit at 10 percent on dirt, 12 percent on turf, 16 percent on synthetic. Distance hasn't mattered - he's 15 percent both sprinting and routing.

One of the intriguing aspects about Vienna has been consistent use of the Santa Anita training track. While the vast majority of trainers on the circuit have stuck with the main track, Vienna has utilized the smaller track (inside the turf course), seeing the deeper dirt surface as a way to fortify a horse's foundation. The times may often be much slower than on the main track, but he's not looking for speed there - he's looking for fitness. And, if you do see a fast work on the training track, it means the horse worked great.

Vienna has also known when to make a change. He has known when a horse needed a break, and in fact is a strong 15 percent off a layoff of six months or more. The change could come in the form of a class drop - he's three for his last four (75 percent) when going from straight maiden to maiden claiming. It may take the form of a distance chance - he's 3 for his last 10 (30 percent) going route to sprint, and 4 for his last 14 (29 percent) moving from sprint to route.

Even now he still dips his toe into the deep end of the pool. Feisty Suances gave Pioneerof the Nile a scare in the Grade 2 San Felipe last month. Medici Code has been knocking heads with the best turf runners on the circuit the past couple of years and keeps threatening to break through and win a big one soon.

Then there's the rejuvenated Magnum. Back in 2006, Magnum was competitive with the best, and at the time that meant Lava Man, running second to that rival in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and fourth to him in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Minor injuries took him to the bench, and later he had to be gelded. He seems to have some of the old fire now, winning the Grade 2 San Antonio here Feb. 8 (the horse he beat, Well Armed, came back to romp in the Dubai World Cup) and then running fifth to Einstein in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. He was pointing for the recent Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap but suffered a quarter crack and will have to recover from that before going on to something else. Despite being an 8-year-old, he's quite fresh, insisted Vienna. All the inactivity means he really hasn't run that much so he has plenty of furlongs left him in to try some different things.

Just like his trainer.