08/03/2008 11:00PM

Trainer profile: Michael McDonald


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Michael McDonald, 51, a fixture in south Florida, particularly at Calder Race Course, for the better part of about two decades, has taken a different approach this spring and summer and it is beginning to pay dividends. McDonald, a native of Jamaica, moved his 24-horse stable from Calder to Aqueduct about 2 1/2 months ago and now has 11 head based at Saratoga with an additional 10 at Aqueduct.

Toward the end of his stay at Calder and leading into this transition, McDonald went 0 for 21, but then he won with 5 of his next 25 runners, with two of the wins coming on the NYRA circuit and the other three at Monmouth Park. Among the winners were Victorious Dream, a first-time starter who paid $38.80, and Isn't That Special, who the McDonald believes is his first winner at Saratoga.

"We've just tried to bide our time and pick the right spots with our horses and have enjoyed fair success," McDonald said. "The game goes in cycles and it seems the ones we were sending out to second- and third-place finishes have come back in the right spots and gotten the job done. You want to spot your horses where they can be competitive, because to lead a horse over who is in over his head and 60-1 on the tote isn't going to do anybody any good.

"I guess in some ways this is a game of dreamers, but part of the game is to educate your owners and stay away from running a $30,000 horse for twice that amount."

Of course, some trainers are handcuffed by owners to run in certain spots, but McDonald is an owner in several of his horses.

"I own six of the runners in my care in part, and I'm willing to put up my own money," McDonald said, adding that he doesn't have the clientele to attack the claim box but could pluck one or two runners from the Saratoga meet. "The old-time trainers I was brought up around and owe a lot to did it the same way. I liken it to a chef who is willing to eat his own cooking."

Two old-time trainers he admires are Bobby Hale and Laurie Silvera.

Bettors should like everything served up by McDonald of late, as a flat-bet on all of his runners this year is good for a profit ($2.20 ROI).

Three McDonald-trained runners that should be on your Saratoga/Monmouth watch list, with an eye toward dinner at Siro's over a fast food joint, are: Carnival City, claimed at Belmont for $35,000 by McDonald as owner/trainer; Obscurity, a wire-to-wire winner of a nice Belmont maiden race off a break in June who can rebound after falling a bit flat on stretchout in distance at Monmouth; and Personal Good, who ran a sneaky-good fourth at long odds when back on the main track.

McDonald, once an aspiring professional golfer, was realistic in finding his career path.

"I wasn't good enough and horses kept sidetracking me," he said, adding that he prides himself on being a "straight shooter."

"I'm not going to keep one in the barn just to keep one in the barn," he said. "At some point, with any horse, 99 percent of the time you'll know if there is a problem or if a horse is simply void of enough talent, and while some clients could take your assessment the wrong way, you have to be honest. Believe me, I've given away plenty of my own horses.

"I try to care for my horses as I would my own. Even in dealing with vets, I ask them to treat the horse as it were their own. You have to respect an opinion. I'll tell them, 'I'm the trainer, you're the vet. Do your thing.'"

McDonald's barn is pretty well-rounded, and he is confident he can train any type of horse.

"I think I cover all the bases pretty well," said McDonald, who shows a flat-bet profit with first-time starters. "I'm not a statistician or a promoter, but I think I do decent with first-timers. We school our young horses, make sure they are ready and won't go crazy in the paddock, and try to do well first and second time out with them.

"It's a tough game where you are up against the best horses, trainers, and jockeys, so you don't want to lead a horse over just for the heck of it. We want to be ready from the get-go."

McDonald said his move to New York isn't permanent, but he hopes to continue to race in New York, New Jersey, and Florida at various times of year.