05/28/2004 12:00AM

Trainer trends can fine-tune your bets


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Most experienced handicappers are familiar with the leading trainers on their favorite circuit. Once an opinion has been formed, it typically doesn't change much unless the trainer enjoys so much success, or suffers through a drought so long, that it is readily apparent to all concerned.

Getting an edge over your fellow bettors requires that you look beyond the long-term numbers to discover which trainers are currently outperforming expectations, and which ones aren't meeting them. I checked the Churchill meet trainer statistics through Thursday, and discovered a few trends that should help bettors to fine-tune their decision-making, on win bets and in the exotic pools, during the rest of the meet.

Leading trainer Dale Romans has won with 25 percent of his starters, with a $1.59 return on investment that is fairly typical for him, since he has a large following.

There are wide differences in the returns generated by the three trainers who are tied in the battle for second place. Tom Amoss has been very productive, with 35 percent wins and 70 percent in the money. As a result, bettors have been rewarded with a $2.55 win ROI. D. Wayne Lukas has been a victim of his popularity for a long time, with a low $1.22 ROI since 1991, despite a solid win rate of 17 percent over that period. The good news is that he has won with 21 percent of his starters at Churchill, and has produced a $1.65 ROI, losing only slightly more than the parimutuel takeout. Steve Asmussen has won with 15 percent of his runners, but he has underperformed with his medium- and longer-priced starters while showing a 51 percent loss at $0.98.

At fifth place in the standings, Greg Foley has enjoyed a good meet, with 23 percent wins and 53 percent in the money. His supporters have won back part of the takeout with a $1.70 return.

Bill Mott and Paul McGee are tied for sixth with identical 26-8-2-2 records. Both are profitable. Mott shows a $2.60 ROI, while McGee has returned higher total payoffs at $3.47. It should be noted that both are unlikely to maintain their high 2-1 ratio of wins to second- and third-place finishes. Nevertheless, even if those returns on investment come down as they figure to, both trainers are worth supporting when their horses figure as contenders at a square price. That scenario will probably occur more often for McGee than for Mott, who has the larger fan base.

Ken McPeek has flown under the radar of many fans in eighth place in the standings, while being especially effective in the exacta with a 35-7-10-2 record. His $2.44 win ROI makes his starters worth a second look.

Bob Baffert shows just 17 starters at Churchill, but they have been very well-placed, with 7 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third. It would be unrealistic to expect him to maintain that unusually high ratio of 2.33 wins vs. his combined second- and third-place finishes, so his $2.99 ROI isn't likely to stay that high for the rest of the meet. Nevertheless, bettors should continue to benefit from realizing that Baffert has been clever about choosing which horses to bring to this track, and which spots they are best suited to run in.

Ronny Werner is in 10th place, and has been effective with 17 percent wins and 51 percent in the money. But his winners have paid mostly marginal prices, yielding just a $1.26 return.

Four trainers are tied for 11th place in the standings. Charles Simon is nearly breaking even at $1.98 from 16 percent wins. Pat Byrne and Neil Howard have each won 26 percent from 15 starters, but Byrne's winners have paid more ($1.81) than Howard's ($1.59). Dallas Stewart has won with 15 percent of 26 starters, but they have been chalky, with low average win payoffs of $5.53, and a $0.85 ROI.