08/05/2005 12:00AM

Wagner keeping cards close to vest

Hoofprints, Inc.
Trainer Karin Wagner

Mum's the word when trainer Karin Wagner is asked to discuss some of the better older horses in the modest eight-runner stable she has at Delaware Park this summer.

It's not that Wagner runs a secretive operation. Rather, she's reluctant to provide details about her runners for fear of losing them through the claiming box.

In Wagner's case, she isn't being paranoid by keeping quiet. Although she has started just 20 horses at the current meet, Wagner has already lost five via claims.

"We're competing in a game where some of these outfits have a lot more chips to bring to the table than we do," Wagner said. "I run the horses where I think they belong, and when you do that, they're going to get claimed."

Wagner might also be more shrewd than some of her colleagues realize. During a career that goes back 20 years, Wagner galloped such horses as the superstar Cigar and Breeders' Cup winners Eliza and Gilded Times.

Wagner still gets on her own horses in the morning, which allows her to notice subtle changes in her runners and possibly tips her off that it's time to risk losing a claimer coming down with problems.

Several of the horses claimed away from Wagner this season at Delaware were plunging in class, but proved to be no bargains for their new connections.

The 7-year-old mare Spanish Castle, for example, won for $8,000 in her first start off the claim for Wagner and ran well three weeks later for a $10,000 claiming price. But when Wagner lost Spanish Castle for $5,000 in early July, the mare surrendered a big lead as the favorite and ran even worse in her next start at the same level.

Although she has been out on her own as a trainer only since 2003, Wagner has an extensive background working with horses.

Following a journey that took her from Canterbury Park in Minnesota to Louisiana, Wagner hooked up with owner Allen Paulson's organization in California.

"That was when the Paulson horses were on top of the game," Wagner recalled. "I got on Cigar, even though when I galloped him he was just a 2-year-old and hadn't yet shown the kind of talent that made him so successful later.

"Then later I galloped Eliza, who won the 1992 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. That same year I was lucky to also get on Gilded Times, who won the B.C. Juvenile," she said. "That one season I was fortunate enough to either work or gallop six different horses who raced in Breeders' Cup races. That was quite a year."

Wagner later went to work for Neil Howard, a trainer who paid great attention to minute details.

"Neil was a stickler for detail, for the little things, but those little things often make a big difference with horses. I learned a lot from him," Wagner said.

Wagner came to Delaware as assistant trainer for Howard, then when another Howard protege, Mike Zweisler, struck out on his own to train for one of the great names in Delaware racing history, Bayard Sharp, Wagner went with him. She later worked as an assistant for Mike Pino and more recently as aide to Mike Gorham before going out on her own.

"Mike has backed me up and been a great help, and I still help him out whenever I can."

Although she primarily has claimers in her barn, Wagner does have a young runner she said she thinks could have a bright future.

"We bought a 2-year-old filly by Outflanker for $11,500 out of the Timonium sale. Her name is Out to Win, and she could well turn out to be a bargain if she continues to progress like she has," Wagner said. "In the meantime we will just try to not get run over by the big guys. That's the way it is with claiming horses - it's a game of survival."

Funfair headed for a stakes

After winning his North American debut with an impressive Beyer Speed Figure of 98, the 6-year-old European import Funfair appears ready to tackle stakes company.

According to trainer H. Graham Motion, Funfair will be pointed to either the $200,000 Caesar Rodney Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile turf race at Delaware on Sept. 3, or the $200,000 Fourstardave Handicap, a Grade 2 race over 1 1/16 miles on turf at Saratoga, on Aug. 27.

Motion has another turf runner, Control Tower, under consideration for those same two races. He would prefer not to have Funfair and Control Tower face each other, meaning one will stay at Delaware and the is likely to ship to upstate New York.

Funfair compiled a 3-for-13 record in England, placing third in a Group 3 stakes at Newmarket last fall.

Motion said he repeatedly tried to get a race into Funfair earlier this summer, only to be constantly foiled by rainy weather.

"He has been ready to run for at least a month," Motion said. "I entered him four times at Delaware, and all four times I scratched him when the races were taken off the grass."

Finally given a chance to run on grass, Funfair won for fun in an optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on July 26 under jockey Heberto Castillo.

"I was very impressed with his effort," Motion said of Funfair, a son of Singspiel. "Herbie was easing him at the end."

Funfair, racing on Lasix for the first time, closed with good energy to finish two lengths in front.