04/19/2004 11:00PM

To trainers, grass greener on agent's side


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When Rene Araya quit training in February to become a jockey agent for Catalino Martinez, he followed a trend that has become increasingly popular in New York.

In the last 10 years, Araya, Angel Cordero Jr., Mike Kelly, Gary Gullo, and Joey DiAngelo have become jockey agents after finding it difficult to make a living training horses.

The move from trainer to agent is a logical one in many ways. The most important tool of the trade for an agent is the condition book, which is found in the back pocket of every trainer. Trainers understand what it takes to be a successful agent because they deal with agents on a daily basis. Besides the appeal of a smooth transition, the most obvious benefit in making the switch from trainer to jockey agent is the significant difference in overhead between the two jobs.

Trainers are responsible for their stable's payroll, are required by law to carry workers' compensation and liability insurance, and pay social security taxes on their employees' wages. Trainers also pay for feed and barn supplies. Those expenses are meant to be covered by the day rate that trainers charge their owners, which in New York averages $85 to $100 per horse, but most trainers say they lose money on the day rate.

Jockey agents have little overhead beyond a condition book, which is free, and a pencil.

Trainers earn 10 percent of the purse money won by their owners. In New York, the purse breakdown is 60 percent to the winning owner, 20 percent to second, 10 percent to third, 5 percent to fourth, 3 percent to fifth, and sixth through last-place split 2 percent. For example, if a trainer wins a $50,000 race, he will earn $3,000, 10 percent of the $30,000 won by the owner.

For winning mounts, jockeys earn 10 percent of the owner's share of the purse and 5 percent for second and third. Losing mount fees range from $105 to $50, depending on the size of the purse, and cover fourth through last place. It is not uncommon for top riders to bill owners 10 percent for finishing first, second, or third in stakes when they travel out of town to ride.

Typically, jockey agents in New York take home 25 percent of money earned by their riders, including losing mount fees.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin spent a year and half as an agent for the late Chris Antley before accepting a training job in Dubai for the Maktoum family in November 1993. McLaughlin, an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas before he worked for Antley, said the potential to earn good money was the motivating factor in accepting Antley's book. While McLaughlin was with Antley, the rider finished second in races won in New York in 1992 with 203 wins.

"The overhead is very minimal and the profits are great with a top rider," McLaughlin said.

Cordero, one of the country's most successful jockeys for four decades, became a trainer after he retired in 1992 (he made a brief return to riding in 1995).

Cordero's father became a trainer in Puerto Rico after he had retired from riding and his son was eager to do the same. But after seven years of training, Cordero quit in 1998 to become a jockey agent for John Velazquez.

During his career as a trainer, Cordero never won more than 19 races in any single year. In his most successful year of training, in 1996, Cordero's stable earned $490,397.

When Cordero began paying money out of his own pocket to keep his stable afloat, he knew what he had to do.

"I had no choice but to quit," he said.

Velazquez, who won this year's Gulfstream Park meet riding title, is annually is among the country's top riders in money won. He has won the last three riding titles in New York. Since 1990, Velazquez's mounts have earned more than $123 million, and more than $84 million of that amount has been earned since Cordero became his agent.

"I'm making as much money now as I was when I was riding," said Cordero, 61, a Hall of Famer who had 7,057 career winners and earned $164 million in purses.

Kelly was destined for the life of a trainer. His father, Eddie Sr., and brother, Eddie Jr., were both trainers, as was his uncle, Tom Kelly, and cousins Patrick, Larry, and Tim Kelly. But after training for 17 years, Mike Kelly quit in May 1996 to become an agent for one of New York's leading riders, Robbie Davis.

Kelly currently books mounts for Javier Castellano, who was the country's 15th leading rider in purses won with $9.5 million last year and has won $2.27 million in purses this year through April 20. Kelly also represented apprentice Pablo Fragoso until earlier this month when the rider lost his bug. In New York, an agent is not permitted to represent more than one journeyman.

On his decision to switch careers, Kelly, 46, said he was finding it increasingly difficult to fill stalls. Kelly, whose starters earned a total of $3.9 million in purses, won 17 races from 90 starters in his final full year of training in 1995.

"I just didn't have the numbers," Kelly said. "To make it training horses you have to have some numbers to work with because it's a year-long cycle."

Kelly said he experienced some bumps in the road when he made the transition from trainer to agent, but he also believes his insider's view came in handy when he found himself on the other side of the fence.

"What helped me was that I became an agent here in New York and basically knew the other trainers," he said.

Trainers are known for working long hours. So it surprised Gullo, a son of a trainer, that being an agent required more of his time than training horses did.

"I never realized how time-consuming being an agent was; I thought agents kind of had everything easy if they had a good jockey," said Gullo, 44, who after 26 years of training quit in May 2003 to take Jorge Chavez's book. "But there is so much to keep track of every day - every horse who is running and the trips they had. If you have six owners, you can talk to three one day, and the other three the next day. You can't do that as an agent; you have to communicate daily."

DiAngelo, 59, quit training eight years ago to become an agent for Nick Santagata, and he was Julie Krone's agent from 1997-99. He currently represents Alex Beitia.

But if the proper opportunity presented itself, DiAngelo said he would return to training.

"I miss playing with the horses," said DiAngelo. "If someone gave me a string of horses that would make me a living in New York, I would jump at it."