09/08/2008 12:00AM

Trainer profile: Enrique Arroyo

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Enrique Arroyo saddled his first winner in 2006 and since that time has proven himself a trainer to watch on a New York Racing Association circuit that historically hasn't been the easiest for a new face to crack.

He's built upon his performance in each year after he saddled only four horses in 2005, going 3 for 23 in 2006, 17 for 125 last year, and 27 of 151 this year through Sept. 7. Arroyo currently trains a string of 21 at Belmont Park.

Arroyo, 41, a former jockey and cousin to rider Norberto Arroyo Jr., began riding horses when he was 17 in his native Puerto Rico but found other occupations when he couldn't keep his weight in line. He worked as a jockey agent in Puerto Rico but ultimately settled on New York in 2000 where he was employed as an exercise rider for various trainers, including Dominick Galluscio and Frank Martin.

It seems as though he's made a seamless transition from exercise rider to trainer, a path many others have failed at. He has been able to win first time off the claim at an 18 percent rate, with a positive return on investment ($2.17) in that category.

Generally, his claimed stock seems to be wheeled back in the entries within two to four weeks' time. He also has had success getting those runners to hold their strong form. Tzipi, for example, was claimed for $15,000 on March 14 and returned to finish second in about a month on a class rise. In seven starts for Arroyo, Tzipi produced 2 wins, 3 seconds, and 1 third before she was claimed away for $25,000.

With the help of owner Robert Urrutia, responsible for the bulk of his 25 claims this year, Arroyo has played the claiming game aggressively, often reaching in for runners in the barns of top trainers and also going for an occasional re-claim at a premium.

Bill Place, for example, was taken by Arroyo for $25,000 and posted a third and a win at Saratoga. He was claimed away for $25,000 and Arroyo reached back in at $35,000. Bill Place raced back once and finished seventh on a steep class hike, but the show of barn confidence indicates he's one to watch moving forward.

Arroyo has taken horses from the barns of top trainers such as Gary Contessa, Anthony and Rick Dutrow, and Bruce Levine.

"We've done well claiming, and Robert has been a big help as an owner," Arroyo said.

Arroyo, as he generally has all year, has made a handful of recent claims in the $20-35,000 range, and as Saratoga has given way to Belmont and ultimately Aqueduct, these acquisitions should serve his barn quite well. Horses like Arrrrr and Storm Boot Gold bear close watching in the coming months.

"We won three races in Saratoga, and that was fun, as well as something I'm proud of and hopeful we can build on," Arroyo said. "Training horses has been different for me as opposed to being an exercise rider, of course. Riding became a problem with keeping my weight down, but now every morning I know I can train. I'm working hard, getting to the barn early, and trying to win as many as we can. You have to win races so you can keep getting horses in the barn. I love it."

Arroyo has gotten on his own stock as an exercise rider in recent months, but not as much of late.

"I currently have a couple of exercise riders working for me, so I've been able to concentrate on some other things," Arroyo said. "But I like getting on my horses to get a feel for them. It helps, and from time to time I'll still do that."

Bettors would be wise to get on Arroyo's horses a bit more often than once in a while.