12/23/2007 1:00AM

Trainer profile: Malcolm Pierce

EmailIf somebody pulls off a radical feat once, it can seem like the product of mere good fortune. If it happens again, one begins to suspect there’s more to it than Lady Luck alone.

Take Malcolm Pierce and his grass horses. A filly named Hide and Chic won the Royal North at Woodbine in the summer of 2006, paying off at 48-1 in her turf debut. Okay, fine. But just last month, in the Nov. 24 Pago Hop at Fair Grounds, Pierce did it again, sending out Autobahn Girl to a 29-1 score in her first career start on turf.

There may be something worth noting here.

Pierce, a native of Newmarket, Ontario, a town a half-hour north of Toronto, winters at Fair Grounds and summers at Woodbine, and his is a name with which bettors should get familiar. Pierce shows a positive return on investment in 20 Daily Racing Form statistical categories, and many of them are whoppers. Some, like the $7.03 with first-time turf horses, are the product of the Autobahn Girl-Hide and Chic double. Others, like a $2.52 ROI from a major sample of 190 grass races, suggest there are longer-term trends at work.

Pierce, a former assistant to Sam-Son Farm trainers Jim Day and Mark Frostad, has been out on his own for 10 years now, and his operation has grown at this point to its largest scope. He has 28 stalls at Fair Grounds, the most he’s ever had in New Orleans, and carried about 40 horses during the Canadian phase of his year.

Pierce starts only a handful of claimers, with an emphasis on maiden and allowance horses, with a fair number of stakes-class horses thrown in. He has picked up business for operations like Pin Oak Farm, Live Oak Farm, and Eugene Melnyk, but does not get first-string types for the largest operations.

Pierce is a 9 percent winner with 2-year-olds, and an 8 percent winner with debut runners – and these relatively low numbers make perfect sense.

“I love to work with 2-year-olds and young horses,” Pierce said in a recent telephone interview. “I hate 2-year-old in training sales. They’re totally the opposite of what I do to bring a horse along. The day they work that quarter-mile in 21 is like their Kentucky Derby.”

Pierce, rather than pumping everything up, attempts to slow everything down. He said he has great respect for the fact that racehorses spend much of their life confined – unnaturally – to a stall. Of course, they’re prone to getting worked up once they get out onto the racetrack. It’s his job to teach the animal to turn on and off on command, and it’s this focus, plus the fact that much of his stock is bred for grass, that has stamped Pierce as a “turf trainer.”

But Pierce also has been having great success shuffling horses back and forth between races on grass and races on a synthetic surface, primarily the Polytrack at Woodbine: his ROI with turf-to-synthetic starters is $2.44, and with synthetic-to-turf runners is $4.12

Pierce has won with 5 of his last 20 starters racing with blinkers added, for an ROI of $3.26. And he has been especially impressive in the category of “won last start,” an area where many trainers have surprisingly low numbers. Pierce, from a 59-horse sample, shows a 29-percent win rate, with a $3.46 ROI. Part of that comes from the fact that he trains patiently and judiciously, and when a horse comes to a peak, it is not generally a sharp peak followed by rapid decline. Also, Pierce takes his time getting horses from race to race.

“I really try to space their races,” he said. “Rarely will you see me run a horse back in a couple weeks, especially after they give you a tough effort.”

Pierce has begun the Fair Grounds meet with 4 winners from 11 starters, including stakes victories with Autobahn Girl and Sterwins, and even a rare score from Pectoralis Major, who appeared to be stuck forever in her entry-level allowance condition. A little bit of the Pierce grass magic finally got her over the hump.