Raymond Makarovich Jr. says this one story tells you everything you need to know about Howard Wolfendale, the Maryland trainer who recently won his 1,000th race:
In 1990, Makarovich scraped together $6,500 to claim his first horse. The horse, Barbara's Last, finished seventh in the race from which Makarovich claimed her. Wolfendale told him not to worry. Three weeks later, in her first race under Wolfendale's care, Barbara's Last won by 2 1/4 lengths.
"The hook was set," Makarovich said. "I've been in it ever since."
Makarovich, 42, owns Rosie's Bar in Baltimore and works at a mortgage company. But for the past six or seven years, he says, he's made the most money with horses trained by Wolfendale. In fact, Makarovich said, he has not lost money in the horse business any year since that first pairing with Wolfendale 15 years ago.
"I can't say enough good things about Howard," Makarovich says. "You get to his barn at 4 in the morning and he's in a stall. You go back there, and it's like a health spa. He babies his horses. He treats them like kings."
Wolfendale, 48, is one of those trainers who, if it weren't for the attention 1,000 brings, would still be toiling anonymously with his 24 horses at Barn 18 at Laurel Park, where he's worked for 16 years. And that, really, would be all right with Wolfendale, who shuns the spotlight even on those rare occasions when it shines upon him.
Since taking out his trainer's license in 1977, he has won eight stakes races. Only two carried six-figure purses: the $100,000 Light Hearted Handicap with Niclie last year at Delaware Park and the $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint with Michael's Pride the previous year at Laurel.
Of Wolfendale's 1,004 victories, 792 have come in claiming races. Of his 4,641 starters, 3,468 have been claimers. Wolfendale shrugs and says: "I've been typecast as a claiming trainer."
Claiming races are the bread and butter of thoroughbred racing in America. In a claiming race, each horse is for sale for a set price. If you claim the horse, he's yours after the race, no matter where he finishes.
Wolfendale's career winning percentage is 22 percent, but last year it was 27 percent. That tied him for seventh among North American trainers with 40 or more starters. What's more, he consistently wins more than 30 percent with horses he has claimed and started for the first time. Of his eight stakes wins, six have come with horses he'd claimed.
Makarovich said Wolfendale excels with claiming horses because he works harder and takes better care of his horses than most trainers do. Wolfendale shares the credit with his wife, Tammy, who gallops their horses and manages their business.
"It's as much her as it is me," Wolfendale said.
They met at Penn National in 1977, when Wolfendale was caring for his brother's horses and Tammy was galloping horses in the same barn. They'd grown up in the world of horses. It was the only life they knew. They've immersed themselves in it, together, ever since. They live in Columbia.
When things got tough, Tammy hired herself out as an exercise rider. Currently, their second exercise rider is their 18-year-old daughter, Maggie.
"We paid our dues, believe me," Tammy said.
"But we always managed to make it through somehow," said her husband.
The past two years, Wolfendale has taken a string to Delaware Park, where the purses are higher and the claiming opportunities greater. He did it reluctantly, at the insistence of his owners, but, he said: "We could see the writing on the wall. It's hard to get people to spend money here. It makes no sense. I've been struggling in Maryland."
He won No. 999 on Jan. 28 with Ceviche. It took him until Feb. 21 to win No. 1,000 with Warison. Both came at Laurel -- in claiming races.
Makarovich hopes to upgrade Wolfendale's resume. He began breeding horses a few years ago in hopes of providing Wolfendale a horse or two with more potential than what he can pluck out of a claiming race. Makarovich believes Wolfendale could earn more time in the spotlight with better horses.
Berkley Kern, a Bowie trainer, does, too. He gives Wolfendale straight A's.
"He's hands-on. His horses look good. He places them well. And he uses good jockeys," Kern said. "How many times do you hear a trainer say anything good about another trainer?"
Jockey Starts 1st 2nd 3rd Earnings
Eric Camacho 219 48 45 31 $730,350
R. Dominguez 199 43 40 29 $801,385
R. Fogelsonger 186 36 28 37 $691,170
R. Monterrey 164 34 23 25 $448,095
Erick Rodriguez 161 31 31 22 $498,135
Mario Pino 168 30 30 24 $540,215
Dyn Panell 148 27 22 27 $319,365
Steve Hamilton 192 20 32 38 $462,365
Luis Garcia 174 19 16 24 $294,330
Abel Castellano 150 17 18 26 $434,730
Trainer Starts 1st 2nd 3rd Earnings
Scott Lake 76 24 10 10 $356,195
Kenny Cox 106 22 22 11 $326,535
John Rigattieri 73 16 11 15 $200,290
Chris Grove 69 15 12 17 $307,205
Dale Capuano 74 14 14 12 $265,800
Ferris Allen 74 13 17 12 $251,365
Eddie Gaudet 46 12 3 11 $192,635
Tim Salzman 60 12 14 4 $177,905
D. Haughton 35 12 3 7 $105,080
Rodeny Jenkins 53 11 7 15 $235,775