03/29/2010 12:00AM

Trainer Profile: John Salzman Jr.


John Salzman Jr. needed a self-imposed break from training some years back. He took some time to serve as a jockey's agent and pursued other employment in racing, returned to training in 2008, and of late seems to be someone bettors must pay attention to, especially with juvenile racing just around the corner.

Salzman, now 46, won with 20 of 67 starters in 2008, won 30 races last year, and is firing on all cylinders at the current Laurel Park meet with a 12 for 28 record. On the year, he has won with 13 of 34 starters (38 percent), and bettors have been rewarded with a $2.72 return on investment. He maintains a string of 18-20 at Laurel and will have eight 2-year-olds joining the cast shortly.

"I'm just having a lot of fun and enjoying training again," said Salzman, who comes from from a well-known Maryland racing family of trainers (John Sr., his father; Timothy, his brother; and Tex Anderson, his uncle). "I was born and raised around horses and taught well by parents that rubbed horses. I started training at 16, had some success, stepped away and swore I'd never come back to it, but things are going very well right now."

The Salzman family has a proven track record, and often on a shoestring budget as it pertains to horseflesh. John Sr. in 2000 plucked a pint-sized filly from a juvenile sale for $5,000, and then guided her as Xtra Heat to 26 wins and more than $2.3 million in earnings.

Like his dad, Salzman can find youngsters for the right price and put his owners not only in the winner's circle, but in the black. Current runners in the barn include Cole T, a $2,000 yearling buy, who is a New York-bred with a maiden win and third-place stakes finish to his credit, and Gator Prowl, a $7,000 yearling who was a blowout maiden winner at first asking last year and who has since won four more races, including a stakes. She could run next in the Ms. Preakness Stakes.

Salzman estimates the eight juveniles headed to his barn cost a total of about $25,000, and rather than be discouraged by that fact, he seems both proud and confident in his stock. "Two-year-old racing is just ahead of us, and I'm ready," he said. "We have stock, good owners behind us, and great help. I actually think that seven of the eight I have can run, and the other one is the type that might be cut out to go long.

"I've been very fortunate and lucky to learn as much as I have from my dad. He told me speed kills and that you can never get in trouble in front. We've always looked for the type of horse that runs downhill, if you follow - a butt higher than their withers, muscular types, horses that can win early. The paper on the horse, or pedigree page, doesn't matter because we are going to go with appearance."

Salzman keeps a realistic approach, and knows his goals may not be in line with other trainers on the backstretch.

"Will I ever win the Kentucky Derby - probably not," he said. "I don't think I buy that type of horse, and that is not really my dream. Don't get me wrong - I hope it happens - but, my goals are to have things go as good as they are right now. I want to do well for me and my family and have success with our runners. It is just as important to me to win a $5,000 claiming race as anything else.

"I was brought up with mindset that hard work pays off, and I believe in it. I'm at the barn at 5 a.m., and don't leave until the shed is raked. If you notice one little thing, it can help you. My dad gave me the good advice of, 'Take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves.' "

Right now, Salzman seems to be knocking down his share of races, with bigger ones likely to follow.