11/24/2008 12:00AM

Trainer profile: Dave Kassen


Of trainers with at least four winners heading into the final week of the Churchill Downs fall meet, the top trainer by wagering return on investment is not leading trainer Mike Maker ($2.98 ROI), nor is it second-leading trainer Ken McPeek ($4.02 ROI).

It is trainer Dave Kassen, who has generated a $4.92 ROI by winning with 4 of 12 starters during the meet.

Kassen is the first to admit that things have fallen into place this fall and that racing is a game of streaks. But his lofty ROI can be attributed to more than good fortune.

His horses have a tendency to slip past the public and start at overlaid odds, a trend not only evident this fall at Churchill Downs but over the entire year.

This meet at Churchill Downs, Storming Marine won a $50,000 claimer last Sunday at odds of more than 6-1, which followed a 9-1 triumph by him over first-level allowance company Oct. 31. Kassen-trained Mizzen the Rhythm scored at 4-1 odds Nov. 7 in a $30,000 nonwinners-of-two claimer, which preceded a triumph by Quick Notice against $30,000 nonwinners-of-three company at 5-1 odds Nov. 12.

As handsome as those returns were, they were small relative to some other longshot winners Kassen saddled earlier in the year. At Keeneland, for example, Romin Robin won at 28-1 for him Oct. 22 in an allowance race, and Quiet Queen won the Lady Canterbury Stakes at Canterbury Park under Kassen's training this summer at odds of more than 30-1.

His runners go unnoticed in part because he operates a small stable - currently comprising 14 horses - pretty much ensuring he won't be among the leading trainers by number of winners. Secondly, many of his horses are modestly bred, inexpensive purchases.

Kassen knows his hot streak this fall will eventually come to an end.

"This is a game of peaks and valleys," he said Monday. "One month it's all good, the next all bad."

He's been around long enough to know. Kassen, 69, has been in racing for 50 years, first riding from 1959-1971 and then beginning his training career shortly thereafter, he said.

He said the biggest change today as opposed to when he began training is that true horsemen are "few and far between."

"You've got some young guys that are promoters," he said. "They just drop 'em. Inject and drop, instead of giving time."

He said he is pleased to see racing addressing the overuse of medication, particularly with regard to steroid use.

"All I ever wanted was a level playing field," he said.

When the Churchill Downs meet ends Saturday, Kassen will follow his regular schedule of heading to Florida for the winter, before racing at Keeneland and Arlington in the spring. At those tracks his horses will have an opportunity to race over Polytrack, a surface he calls the "thing of the future."

Then it is back to Churchill Downs in the fall, where he will try to replicate his successful 2008 fall meet.