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Trainer Runco overtakes Brown at Charles Town

December 31, 2006|by LARRY YANOS

Trainer Jeff Runco has returned to the "winner's circle" at Charles Town Races & Slots.

The veteran conditioner - who ranks 29th in the country in races won in 2006 - used a successful Fall Meet as a springboard to overtake Ronney Brown in the overall standings.

Scott Lake, the nation's leading trainer in races won, was a distant third at Charles Town.

Entering Friday's racing card at the West Virginia thoroughbred oval, Runco enjoyed a 116-104 lead over the 2005 champion. He also had more second-place finishes and third-place finishes than Brown and Lake.

"It's nice to win," Runco said. "I've been second to Ronney for a number of years."

This time, however, was different.

Brown, Lake and Runco were in contention early in the year before things started to turn.

"It was a pretty steady year, but things really picked up in the fall and we carried that momentum," Runco said.

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Sensational 2-year-old Dahlgren Hall is the star of Runco's stable.

He is owned in partnership by Runco, wife Susan and Neil Glasser.

The young thoroughbred won both the Tri-State Futurity and West Virginia Futurity after finishing third in the West Virginia Breeders Classic Juvenile race.

"A very nice horse," Runco said. "Overall, we had a good crop of 2-year-olds this year and that helped us. The older horses were also generally better and contributed to the success. Everything clicked and we got on a hot streak in the fall."

Runco has approximately 45 horses in training and credits wife Susan, assistant trainer Tony Petrella and help at the farm and the stable as keys to the great year.

"They all played a big part," Runco said.

The trainer primarily used jockey Luis Perez in 2006 but also used different apprentice riders.

As for 2007, Runco sees few changes.

"We'll try to get more 2-year-olds and more West Virginia-breds into the barn," Runco said. "We'll continue to run primarily at Charles Town and ship occasionally to Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania."

As 2006 comes to a close, there is a little more than $3 million in the horsemen's account at Charles Town.

"That's right about where we want to be," said Charles Town racing secretary Doug Lamp. "We try to keep it around that figure."

Despite the financial gains, Lamp said the purse structure will remain the same for the early stages of 2007.

On another matter, Lamp said money for the West Virginia bred-accredited races have run out but one West Virginia "preferred" race will be carded each racing day.

"The 'preferred' race gives priority to a West Virginia-bred. If the race doesn't fill, any eligible horse can enter," Lamp said.

The racing secretary said money likely will again be available for the West Virginia bred-accredited races in late May or early June.

Pony tales

Charles Town will offer live thoroughbred racing today and Monday with post times at 1 p.m.

Live racing will be offered Thursday through Sunday in January, February and March.

Post time is 7:15 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sundays.

Emilio Flores won his first riding title and Bruce Kravets captured his second training crown in three years as Penn National Race Course's 2006 live racing season concluded Thursday night.

The 36-year-old Flores finished the local campaign with 129 wins, 115 seconds and 103 thirds from 839 mounts. William Otero was second with 111 victories and defending champion Thomas Clifton, who missed six weeks during the summer due to a riding injury, was third with 105 wins.

Kravets led all trainers with 78 winners from 583 starters and local stable earnings of $660,887. David Geist's barn posted 69 wins, while Flint Stites and Todd Beattie tied for third with 64 winners.

Beattie was the top percentage trainer on the grounds, with his 64 winners coming from just 191 starters.

The Wisconsin native's outfit finished second in overall winnings with $608,771.

Pen Eyes led all horses with seven wins in 2006. Iwannabeacowboy, Golden Sherrif and All Souped Up each recorded six local victories.

The 2007 live racing season begins Tuesday night.

Steve "Cowboy" Hamilton, who made a successful return to the saddle in October after nearly a year off, will be sidelined four to six weeks after cracking his vertebrae and breaking ribs on both sides of his body in an automobile accident.

"I am OK," said Hamilton, who has 1,217 career victories. "It could be a lot worse. The injury is in the seventh cervical vertebra."

A top-five rider in Maryland five times during the 1990s, Hamilton was out of racing in 2001, 2002 and 2003 while working on the oil fields in his native Oklahoma.

He returned in January 2004 and won the Pimlico spring riding title.

The following year he rode Malibu Moonshine in the Preakness Stakes and captured another riding crown at Old Hilltop, but decided to take off the balance of 2005 after Maryland Million Day.

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