11/03/2008 12:00AM

Trainer profile: Stephanie Beattie

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Although she has blank-check power for some of her clients and can claim whatever horses she likes, Stephanie Beattie says she's a fussy buyer.

Beattie and her longtime boyfriend and assistant, David Wells, check out horses almost nightly at Penn National Race Course and the Charles Town Races. But mostly they window shop rather than buy.

"We're very picky," said Beattie, 37, who grew up around horses trained by her father, Clarence Minnich, a longtime fixture at Penn National who recently retired from the track after 10 years as a racing official. "We probably could find fault with Secretariat. I treat my clients' money like it's my money. I'm very selective when it comes to claiming."

Although Beattie plays the claiming game well, her best asset might be knowing when to just say no. She has claimed just 13 horses since June 1 and only 30 for the first 10 months this year.

Yet when Beattie and Wells spot a horse they think they can improve, they don't hesitate to drop a slip in the claiming box.

"I look for soundness in the way they walk," Beattie said. "I check their legs to see if there's any filling. If you see a little filling the night they race, you'll see a lot more the next morning."

Beattie and Wells have a knack for making the right moves. According to Daily Racing Form statistics, Beattie is 43 for 87 - an astounding 49 percent - first time off the claim the past two years and an equally sterling 32 for 66 (48 percent) the second time off the claim.

It's not unusual to see a horse Beattie acquires improve dramatically shortly after coming into her barn. A sampling of 29 horses she has claimed since 2007 who finished in the money in their first start for Beattie improved an average of 21 points on the Beyer Speed Figure scale.

How does she do it? Beattie, who is in a tight race with fellow female Murray Rojas for leading trainer at Penn National and ranks second in the standings at Charles Town, insists there's no secret formula.

"It's really a matter of fitness," said Beattie, the ex-wife of trainer Todd Beattie, best known for his top sprinter Fabulous Strike. "Many of the horses we get are simply not fit. When they come to us, it's like they're in the army. We train them hard. But we treat them like athletes and we treat each horse individually."

A good example of how horses can flourish under Beattie's care is the 3-year-old H F Sting. Claimed for $7,500 in late April, he made his first start for Beattie 16 days later and wired a group of conditioned $25,000 rivals while improving his Beyer from a 44 to an 84.

"He had problems with a knee and he didn't like to train," Beattie said. "So we had him swim at the training center and that really turned him around."

Beattie gallops her own horses while rotating about 60 head at the track, a training center, and her home, all within a three-mile radius of Penn National in Grantville, Pa.

"We try to get the horses happy and healthy and fit," Beattie said. "When we bring them to the paddock to race, we expect that they're going to win, or at least be on the board, every time."

Beattie has heard the whispers that with her high percentage, she must be relying on something illegal. But her record is mostly clean. Since Pennsylvania adopted stricter penalties for anabolic steroids on July 1, none of her horses has tested positive.

"I ran horses on steroids before, when it was legal," Beattie said. "But now you can't use them, and we don't."

One of her horses, Butler, did test positive for clenbuterol and was disqualified from a win at Charles Town this past summer.

"I was actually on vacation in Hawaii when that happened," Beattie said.

Upon checking, she discovered that someone mistakenly gave the horse clenbuterol on raceday. She served a 15-day suspension for the mistake in late September and early October. She was not fined because it was her first offense.

Statistics indicate Beattie's record hasn't been affected by Pennsylvania's new steroids rules. Her numbers at Penn National (29 percent wins, 58 percent in the money) are exactly in line with her statistics from the first six months of 2008 (29 percent, 60 percent in the money).

Beattie's two main clients are Robert Cole Jr. and Donald Brown. Cole, who also has had strings of horses with Scott Lake, Howie Wolfendale, and John Riggatieri, is president and owner of First Mortgage in Glen Burnie, Md. Brown is from Harrisburg, Pa., about 20 miles from Penn National.

"All my clients are great," Beattie said. "They allow me to run the horses where they need to run to win. The name of the game is making money, so they don't get upset if I have to drop a horse or risk losing a horse in a claiming race."

In addition to her prowess with recent claims, Beattie excels with sprinters stretching out to routes (36 percent, $2.20 return on investment), maiden claimers (48 percent, $2.45 ROI), and horses she has run on the synthetic surface at Presque Isle Downs (33 percent, $2.29 ROI).