09/29/2008 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Garry Lee


Garry Lee, a former exercise rider and assistant to trainer Allen Iwinski, has been training on his own for about three years now, and with a relatively small string of runners put up strong enough numbers at Monmouth Park this summer to indicate he will be worth following for some time to come.

In particular, from July 20 through Aug. 22 he won with 8 of 15 starters, including a run where he saddled four straight winners.

"It was a very nice summer for me," said Lee, 46, originally from Jamaica, where he also worked in the racing business."I just had a bunch of horses all basically reach their peak and was fortunate enough to find the right spots. Unfortunately, we had 12 in the barn and are now at eight. When you get them sharp and run them in the right spots, sometimes they aren't around for long and will get claimed, but that's the business.

"We are still looking to claim now, but the competition is tough. There are sharp trainers who will put in a slip for the same horse, but we must stay patient."

Lee credits Iwinski, whom he met in 1990 and worked for for roughly 10 years, for much of what he has learned.

"I worked as an exercise rider at first, and I still gallop most all my own horses now," Lee said. "But, to then be an assistant and to learn from Allen was a big help. He really taught me the fundamentals, medication, and what to look for."

Lee loves the fact he's able to exercise his own horses now, and sees it as a valuable edge.

"I don't have to ask an exercise rider how my horses are doing," he explained. "I can learn for myself how they feel and where they are hurting if they are hurting. I've been around exercise riders all my life, and with many of them, everything can be, 'Yes, yes, yes, he's okay,' and that's not going to help.

"I can determine when they are fit to run, if they are hitting the ground right, and things like that for myself."

Nondo, a 3-year-old gelding bred in New Jersey, is a prime example of Lee's patience and ability paying dividends. Nondo was a nonfactor in two starts for Iwinski at Gulfstream Park earlier this year, but has a record of 2-2-0 from 5 subsequent starts since moving to Lee's barn at Monmouth.

"I'd gotten on him when he was with Allen last winter, and he was somewhat of a lazy horse that had the look of some day becoming a nice one," Lee said. "The more he learned, schooled in the morning, and got to run with horses, the better he got. It's a learning process.

Lee noted that both he and Iwinski had also trained Nondo's full brother Primo Nova, a 10-time winner who earned more than $200,000, "and he was the same way. You teach a horse the right way, and they will learn. You need not be a magic man."

Lee has had the magic touch on the year with a record of 14-13-5 from 60 starts with more than $300,000 in purses and a positive return on investment ($2.34) for bettors. He has already surpassed his career-best marks set in 2006, when he won 13 races and also brought back more than $300,000 in purses.

His plan is to continue to train in New Jersey through the fall season at the Meadowlands and then move to Gulfstream for the winter. In the interim, he is likely to bolster his stable with a claim or two and some additional runners currently out of training.

"The goals are to get a good one, a real good one," he said. "It's hard, but not impossible."