02/08/2010 1:00AM

Trainer Profile: Howard "Tucker" Alonzo


'Howard "Tucker" Alonzo worked at a New Orleans-area water purification plant for 30 years, but betting on Alonzo-trained starters in Louisiana will do nothing to water down one's bankroll. Alonzo and his 15-horse string are cranking out flat-bet profits in a whopping 16 Daily Racing Form trainer-stat categories, and since Alonzo is little known, it's odds-on his starters don't figure to deflate anytime soon.

Alonzo, 73 and a native of Algiers, La., which is right across the Mississippi from the French Quarter, started messing around with racehorses as far back as the mid 1960s. He bought a horse or two, and helped out on the backstretch with small-time local trainers with whom he was friendly. Alonzo was listed as head trainer of a horse for the first time in the late 1970s, and after retiring from his day job in 1988, he has devoted himself more thoroughly to the craft of training racehorses.

Alonzo trained the top-class sprinter Bonapaw for much of his career, and Bonapaw was by far the best horse Alonzo has ever had in his barn. His string consists almost entirely of Louisiana-breds, and most of his horses are of the cheaper variety. He trains mainly for friends, many of whom breed their own stock, and only rarely ventures into the claiming game. His racing circuit is simple: Evangeline Downs in the summer, Fair Grounds in the winter.

True to his mechanically oriented background, Alonzo strikes one as a patient tinkerer, a trainer willing to work with this or that little permutation until the machine - the horse - becomes finely tuned enough to win a pot.

"I imagine it's mostly just trial and error," Alonzo said of learning how to train. "I've been fooling with horses my whole life. I like to give them every chance."

It might not happen immediately, and class-dropping may be required, but Alonzo-trained stock tend to find their way to the winner's circle at some point.

"Let me put it to you this way" Alonzo said. "If a horse can run, I'll get it out of them. If I get a decent horse, I can get everything you can out of him."

Alonzo currently sports a healthy $2.70 return on investment, winning 21 percent of his last 124 dirt starts. He has won with 7 of his last 28 maiden-claimers, with an ROI here of $4.37, and has achieved a $2.07 ROI in all claimers, winning 18 percent of his races in that broad category. At Evangeline Downs last summer, blind-betting all Alonzo-trained horses would have produced a $3.07 ROI. No doubt, the typical Alonzo winner is going off at playable odds.

Alonzo's weakest area, according to DRF's trainer form, is with turf horses, which is curious, since his best horse in years, Classy Deelites, is a grass runner. Classy Deelites got hurt early in the Fair Grounds meet and won't be returning until Alonzo's operation shifts to Evangeline. Until then, Louisiana-bred allowance horse Augustus Macray rates as the stable star.

"If I can get him in on dirt, he's not going to be a killer, but he'll be a decent allowance horse," Alonzo said.

Decent does just fine playing the game the way Alonzo plays. And when the right spot comes up for Augustus Macray - or any of the other 14 Alonzos - the horse is likely to be ready for it.