Maryland trainer, 26, is living his dream

ON HORSE RACING

January 11, 2004|By TOM KEYSER

Phil Schoenthal won his first stakes as a trainer on the last day of 2003, when White Mountain Boy captured the Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes at Laurel Park. It didn't take long for him to win his second.

Twenty-four hours later, on the first day of 2004, the Schoenthal-trained Kiowa Prince won the Dancing Count Stakes. After one week of racing in this new year at Laurel, Schoenthal led the state's trainers in earnings with $62,405.

You've heard of Dale Capuano and Tony Dutrow, second and third, respectively, in earnings. But who is Phil Schoenthal?

He is the newest trainer for Michael Gill, the racing titan from New Hampshire who easily led Maryland's and the nation's owners last year in wins. Schoenthal, 26, began training 60 horses at Bowie after working for Gill for one year.

"Who else in America is 26 and training 60 horses?" Schoenthal says. "I'm blessed to be in this situation. Michael Gill is affording me the opportunity to live my dream. More power to him. I thank him every day."

Schoenthal is young and seemingly came out of nowhere, but he says he fits well into Gill's program. He says Gill and his main trainer, Mark Shuman, have developed a system that suits a young, open-minded trainer better than an older one set in his ways.

The system involves taking horses Gill claims and identifying any problems they might have, trying to alleviate them and then finding the most appropriate race in which to enter the horse, Schoenthal says.

"It's constant problem-solving for me," he says. "I love it. There's nothing better than watching a horse get better every day and finally turn a corner, and then lead him over to the races and see him win at 10-1."

Schoenthal says he's well aware of the suspicions surrounding Gill's operation. That's the only drawback to working for the brash, wealthy owner, the trainer says.

"I know I'll never get the credit I might deserve," he says. "People are always going to say, `He's working for Michael Gill. He's hopping horses.' "

Schoenthal insists that Gill's trainers and veterinarians do not "hop" horses, or illegally drug them, to make them run faster. What they do, he says, is freely spend the boss's money on legal drugs and medical procedures.

"Money is not an object when it comes to getting a horse to reach its potential," Schoenthal says. "We spend more money on them than anybody else. We have that advantage every time."

He says Gill spends $40 to $50 a day per horse on vitamins alone. Also, he says, Gill doesn't mind taking a financial hit by dropping a horse he has claimed into cheaper company either to win a race or to lose him.

"We can afford to do that," Schoenthal says. "That would break the average guy."

Schoenthal grew up outside Chicago wanting to be a jockey from the time he could stand, he says. He immersed himself in horses as a boy and teen-ager and eventually worked at horse farms. When he was 19, he went to work for trainer Todd Pletcher.

He then spent four years in the Air Force, continuing to work at horse farms. He eventually hooked up with Shuman, whom he'd met while working for Pletcher, and began working for Gill in Florida.

"It's been a magical year ever since," Schoenthal says.

Mendelson quits

Erwin Mendelson has resigned as a member of the Maryland Racing Commission, saying he was fed up with the rancor and disgusted by the continuing in-fighting between racing's factions.

"I've had enough," said Mendelson, who served more than four years on the nine-member panel. "It's no fun. We're going downhill. I don't need the heartache and the aggravation anymore."

Mendelson, a certified public account who lives in Bethesda, owned a large stable of racehorses in the 1970s and '80s. He said several events led to his decision to resign.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s recent appointment of newcomer Tom McDonough as commission chairman was a "big mistake," Mendelson said. He stressed that he liked McDonough and thought he would grow into the job. But, Mendelson said, throwing someone with no commission experience into that demanding post was not fair to McDonough, the commission or Maryland racing.

And, he said, the recent dispute between horsemen and the tracks over the threatened closing of the Pimlico stables for the winter was a "fiasco." The unruly meetings, the inappropriate public outbursts and the accusations by the horsemen's association that the commissioners had lied and met in secret were the final straw, Mendelson said.

Before voting not to interfere in the dispute, an act that incensed horsemen, commissioners never discussed the issue outside the public meeting, Mendelson said.

"I didn't need to be chastised by the horsemen like that," he said.

Mendelson, whose resignation became effective Dec. 31, said his parting advice is "for the horsemen and the tracks to unite and get together to get a slots bill passed. We need it desperately."

Ehrlich already has appointed a replacement for Mendelson: Gregory H. Barnhill, 50, a partner and senior advisor at Brown Investment Advisory & Trust Co. A resident of Stevenson, Barnhill has owned steeplechase horses for 25 years.

Magna critic

A disgruntled California bettor has called for a gambling boycott of Magna Entertainment Corp. tracks. Richard Bauer, from Irvine, launched the Web site www.boycottmagna.com to garner support.

He and others are angry because Magna has begun charging fees to watch videos of races on track Web sites and stopped accepting bets from wagering companies in competition with its own XPressBet.

Bauer called Magna's action a "heavy-handed and arrogant exercise."

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