07/04/2006 12:00AM

Trainer profile: Tom Wenzel

Emerald Downs
Trainer Tom Wenzel tries to avoid asking his young horses for too much, too soon.

Some horseplayers refuse to bet first-time starters under any circumstances, believing they will be better off in the long run to ignore inexperienced horses. While they may very well be right in general terms, they are missing out on some productive betting angles.

Take the case of trainer Tom Wenzel, who campaigns his 41-horse stable almost exclusively at Emerald Downs in Auburn, Wash. Wenzel, a 40-year-old native of nearby Tacoma, has won with 7 of his last 19 debut runners, producing a return of $5.51 for each $2 wagered on his first-timers. Nor are Wenzel's short-term statistics an aberration. The trainer did nearly as well at Emerald over the five-year period from 2001 through 2005, scoring with 16 of his 65 debut runners and generating a return on investment of slightly less than $3. He said he feels his success with inexperienced horses is due in part to a patient approach to bringing them to the races.

"I try not to ask them to do anything until they are ready," Wenzel said. "I don't break them until they are ready, and I spend a long time schooling them at the gate. I want them to get comfortable with the gate before I even start breezing them. When I do start breezing them, I give them a lot of one- and two-furlong works before I ask them to work around a turn. I want them to get comfortable going straight and to work on developing a burst of speed. I think some trainers get in a hurry and ask them to go too far, too soon. That's when you run into shin problems."

Wenzel said that when he feels he has a horse ready to race, he will work the horse once or even twice more to be sure. Then comes the second part of Wenzel's recipe for success with debut runners.

"It is essential that you know where to run them," he said. "You have to evaluate them realistically and run them where they belong. That can be tough when the horse cost a lot of money, because the owner might not be willing to run him for less than he paid for him. Sometimes you have to give the horse a race or two to prove you were wrong about him. Other times, when you have an inexpensive horse who can run, you can take an edge."

Wenzel takes an edge whenever he can, and that has helped him to maintain a win percentage of nearly 20 percent throughout his 10-year training career.

"I'm a firm believer that 75 percent of the races are won at the entry box," he said. "I try to be aggressive in entering my horses, and any time they go off at more than 5-1 I think I haven't been aggressive enough. There is only a certain window each year for horses to win races, and while that window is open you have to make your races count. You have to take an edge sometimes, especially when you think you can get away with it. Yes, you will have some horses claimed away when you enter them aggressively, but that's the risk you take. It's better than running them over their heads."

Wenzel came to racing through handicapping and didn't think of making a living in the industry until he graduated from the University of Washington in 1989. He worked for several years, first as a groom and then as assistant trainer, for trainer Tom Burlingame at Longacres and Yakima Meadows. Burlingame left racing when Emerald Downs opened in 1996, and Wenzel began training on his own.

"I was fortunate to take over about half of the horses that Tom Burlingame had trained, and one of them was a nice filly called Jazzy Act," Wenzel recalled. "She won two stakes right off the bat, and I was on my way."


HorseAge/SexLast raceFinishLast 3 BeyersCareer recordEarnings
Man of the House3GMdn1750016561--2-1-1-0$8,085
The Case Queen3FIrishDayH76855266-2-1-034,242
Otis of Atlantis3GClm1750025650435-1-1-116,650
The Great Face4GFOXSptNtH87687658-3-1-144,284
Cahill Rose2FMdn3000146----1-1-0-07,645
Golden Pine4FJKFletcher17956684-3-0-040,192


1st race after claim20.000.00
2nd race after claim20.000.00
1st race with trainer100.100.66
+180 days since last race150.000.00
60-180 days since last race30.332.20
Second off layoff 45-180 days40.251.40
Second off layoff +180 days140.211.61
1st time starter200.355.23
2nd start as maiden120.080.57
Maiden special to maiden claimer50.000.00
1st time blinkers50.000.00
Blinkers on50.000.00
Blinkers off30.673.67
Sprint to route140.140.66
Route to sprint110.000.00
31-60 days since last race110.090.33
Won last start170.181.40
Maiden claiming440.181.78
Maiden special weight130.385.58
Debut in a maiden claiming race120.253.78

Trainer statistics reflect North American starts from Jan. 1, 2005 through July 2, 2006