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Big Weekend For Pena At 'Big M?'

Published: December 30, 2009 4:23 pm ET

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Harness racing returns to Meadowlands Racetrack on Friday, and with it comes a new face in the training colony.

Lou Pena, who recently relocated his stable from California to New Jersey, will move full steam ahead with four starters on the opening night card, including Native Bride in the $32,000 mares invitational. Pena, 41, was a regular on the Cal-Expo/Los Alamitos circuit before moving east. A native of La Palma, Mexico, he now has 25 horses stabled at Gaitway Farms in Englishtown, New Jersey.

"I came out east in July since racing in California has been struggling," Pena explained. "I thought I'd seek my pot of gold in the New Jersey area. I've always trained in California, and I guess I've done my share of winning there. I've won maybe six titles training and driving on the California circuit."

Pena grew up around the racetrack and learned the ropes of the business from trainer Gary Baker.

"My father was a groom for Jerry Silverman and Doug Ackerman," he said. "That's how I got started, going in to help him at the barn on weekends and in the summer as a kid. We were at Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows.

"Jerry Silverman always told me to work hard and stay focused if you want to be successful," he continued. "I never took those words for granted. Gary Baker worked for Jerry for many years, and eventually took over his California outfit. Gary let me be kind of a second trainer. It really helped me learn a lot. Gary eventually moved east, and I was only about 16 when I actually started a stable. [Training horses] is all I've ever done. I dabbled in thoroughbreds and quarter horses."

Pena has worked with many talented pacers over the years, including Eaton Road Kill, Easton Alliance and Positron. He will send out a third of his stable, led by the top mare Native Bride, opening weekend at the Meadowlands.

Native Bride is rated as the 3-1 morning line favourite in the $32,000 tenth race mares invitational Friday night. Fresh off a four-length romp at Yonkers, she will start from Post 4 with Brian Sears at the lines. Co-owned by Sears' father, Jay, Native Bride has won 21 of 33 career starts.

"The owners (Sears and T H Stable) contacted me to see if I had a spot for her," Pena noted. "I watched some of her performances in the past and I know what her capabilities are. You want one of those top class horses in your stable to sort of anchor it. I don't have too many sitting idle in a stall now, and we're going to have a busy opening weekend at the Meadowlands. Everything is probably not 110 per cent ready yet, but we're close."

Pena's Friday starters also include Im A Native Two, who will go postward in the ninth, a conditioned race for fillies and mares. She is listed at 8-1 on the morning line from Post 9.

"I picked up Im A Native Two from (trainer) Kevin McDermott, who had recommended me to his owner Joseph Zicchino," he said. "Kevin was kind of stuck with another horse in a similar class. I've known him for about 15 years, and I bought a really good horse off of him called Givemewhatineed. Im A Native Two is a beautiful animal with some class and potential. She had a little foot abscess that popped out, and then she had a little sniffle, but now we have a chance to move forward with her. "

Run On Luck, a fresh $20,000 claim at Yonkers by Pena, is the 7-2 second choice in Race 12. The seven-year-old mare has won three of her last four starts and 11 races total in 2009.

"I thought she'd be a good mare to race at the Meadowlands, but she can race on any size track," he said. "I think she's a good investment and worth a shot. [Her owners] Lightning Lane Stable of Staten Island, NY are two young guys (Jay Hospodarek and Eric O'Neill) who love the game and they're fearless. They got involved about 10 years ago, and they want to buy as many as they can get their hands on. They've had some good luck and they just want to keep turning it over."

Pena will also send out Spring Again, another recent addition to his barn, in the thirteenth race for $30,000 claimers.

"Spring Again is a horse who was running a little bit stale and the owner (Kdm Stables Corp. of Farmingdale, NJ) wanted to give the horse a new outlook. Howard Schneidler (who races as Kdm) is another guy who's infatuated with the game. He just wants to buy good horses and have fun at this. He's very enthusiastic about it. He called me up and asked me to try one of his horses. I can't produce miracles, but I'll put my best effort forward and we'll see what happens."

Pena will send out another five starters on the Saturday card.

"I think you have to run with it when you get on a roll," he said. "Sure, the luck can run out, but if you work hard and you're smart about it, you'll get lucky a lot. I'm a firm believer in that. If you don't look beyond the wall in front of you, you'll never see the light in front of it. I was five years old when I came to America, and I don't remember having two shirts until I was 10. I had to learn to survive. "

The Meadowlands first-race post time is 7:00 p.m. on Friday, January 1 and Saturday, January 2.

(Meadowlands)

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