10/26/2006 11:00PM

Transplant looking for big flourish

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Tom Amoss and his wife, Colleen, moved 12 years ago with their two young daughters from New Orleans to Louisville, and rarely have they taken a peek back. "We fell in love with the place," said Amoss.

Not only was the move a good one for his family, but his career, too. After quickly becoming a leading trainer on the Louisiana circuit in his late 20's and early 30's, Amoss, now 44, sought to prove himself further by moving to the tougher Kentucky circuit - and he certainly has. Now, with two horses set to run in the 23rd Breeders' Cup World Championships next Saturday at Churchill Downs, Amoss is hoping to hit a career pinnacle in his adopted hometown.

Amoss will saddle Baghdaria in the $2 million BC Distaff and Rush Bay in the $3 million BC Turf, and although both are regarded as outsiders, Amoss is never one to rush in blindly.

"Whenever you run a horse in a race," said Amoss, who through Thursday had won 1,773 races from 7,486 starters, "you like to have an angle that makes you think positive thoughts."

Such an off-the-cuff observation is typical of why Amoss has become known as a thinking man's trainer. His is a label well earned, and one that is something of birthright. His mother and father raised six kids, all boys, in New Orleans, with the freedom to do anything they wanted when they became adults, with one caveat.

"They insisted we get a college education," said Amoss.

Three of his brothers attended Yale University, and the other two attended Duke University and Williams College. All have gone on to excel in highly diverse fields, including Jim Amoss, who as editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune was named one of "America's Best Leaders" in the Oct. 30 edition of U.S. News & World Report. Two of the other brothers are involved in an import-export business, another is an executive in a nonprofit agency that oversees pediatric care in the former U.S.S.R., and another is a physician who is team doctor for the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Amoss, a graduate of Louisiana State University, likes to paint himself as a plain ol' horse trainer and therefore the low man on the family totem pole, but he hardly fools anyone. In discussing the endless complexities of the horse business, he can unfailingly articulate the finer points of whatever needs evaluating, from the conformation and soundness of racehorses to the Ragozin handicapping sheets he pores over to the racing analysis for which he is paid by TVG. He is a man who is forever getting things done, and by combining this industrious nature with his innate talents and keen mind, he often is cited as being among the next generation of superstar trainers.

Yet while many of his statistics would be the envy of the vast majority of Thoroughbred trainers - in 20 years, he has amassed stable earnings of $43.3 million, winning with 23 percent of his runners - he still has yet to come close to winning either the Kentucky Derby (one starter) or a Breeders' Cup race (four starters). Understandably, he is eager to make that jump to the next level, and he hopes to do it Saturday by stunning the racing world with Baghdaria or Rush Bay.

Amoss conceded that the 3-year-old Baghdaria "will have to run the race of her life to win" the Distaff but said he does not mind running 3-year-olds against older horses at this late stage of the year.

"She has the kind of resume where she deserves a shot," he said.

As for Rush Bay, Amoss is encouraged by the colt's form over the Churchill turf: 3 wins and 1 second from 4 starts.

"He absolutely loves this course," he said. "Plus he has a great running style where he can be on or close to the front end."

An upset by either Baghdaria or Rush Bay not only would give Amoss the kind of career milestone he covets, but also create an even larger profile than what he already has cut out for himself in Louisville.

"Before we moved here in 1994, all I knew about the place was from the airport to the track," he said. "There really is a lot more to it - especially the way the people love horse racing. That's a big part of what would make it so special for me to win one of these Breeders' Cup races."