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Originally published Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Emerald Downs trainer Carlos Moreno hits it big with Kruger Park

Trainer Carlos Moreno is feeling lucky after claiming his gray gelding for $50,000 and hopes his horse pays off all the way to Longacres Mile.

Seattle Times staff

AUBURN — When Carlos Moreno claimed Kruger Park for $50,000 earlier this year, this was his first thought:

"My God, I hit the lotto with this guy."

This winning ticket is a 5-year-old gray gelding, and Moreno is hoping it continues to pay off, all the way through the Grade III $300,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 16, the Northwest's signature horse race.

"From the time I claimed him, I thought Longacres Mile," Moreno said. "That's my goal. It's not a dream, it's a goal, because it's very reasonable."

It's hard to argue with the affable 54-year-old trainer, considering Kruger Park's local debut May 3 when he won the $30,000 Seattle Handicap, which drew a strong field of nine, including Wasserman, last year's Longacres Mile champion.

For Moreno, training horses is "not my living, it's a passion and a hobby." Moreno said he owns an environmental-services business that does work for the Department of Defense.

Moreno doesn't like to talk much about his business, but will talk about most any other subject, such as being the oldest of 22 kids in Tijuana, Mexico ("One mother, one father," he proudly says) and being an accomplished boxer and runner.

And maybe one day, trainer of a Longacres Mile winner.

Kruger Park is scheduled to continue his journey toward the Mile on Monday in the $50,000 FSN Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs, a half-furlong farther than the Seattle Handicap. Moreno said Kruger Park is coming into the race in terrific shape.

"Right now, this is the best older horse on the grounds," Moreno said.

Moreno has been training at Emerald Downs since the racetrack opened in 1996, but with a very small stable. He had 17 wins in 195 starts entering this year.

Kruger Park gave Moreno his first stakes win at Emerald Downs, but he has won several stakes at Portland Meadows. Moreno was in Southern California looking at a horse for the Portland Mile when he heard about Kruger Park, who was in the barn next door.

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Moreno spent time watching Kruger Park's races and noticed that the horse had a bad habit of pulling his head up in the stretch.

"I thought, 'I can fix that,' " he said.

Moreno made an offer of $70,000 but was turned down. A month later, however, the horse was entered in a $50,000 claiming race on March 22 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.

Moreno was one of four people to put in a claim, and he won in a random draw.

Just another reason he feels like he won the lotto.

Kruger Park was 10-1 minutes before post time for the Seattle Handicap (he ended up being 5-1), but Moreno figured he had the best horse. Kruger Park had been the 11-10 favorite in the race he was claimed, losing by two lengths to Soul City Slew, who went on to win the Grade II Potrero Grande Handicap at Santa Anita in early April.

"I said, 'There are no Grade II horses in this race,' " Moreno said of the Seattle Handicap. "I could not believe it, that he was 10-1. But do you know why? It's right here."

Moreno pointed to his name as the horse's trainer.

"It's because I am low profile," he said.

It was also because it was Kruger Park's first race on real dirt, after mostly running on turf in Southern California. Moreno had no worries about the transition "because he [Kruger Park] is such a good athlete."

Kruger Park opened up a nice lead in the stretch in the Seattle Handicap and won by three-quarters of a length. The piece of equipment Moreno put on Kruger Park's nose helped keep the horse's head down.

"He had another gear," Moreno said. "He just took off."

Moreno is training 17 horses at Emerald and enjoys talking about each one's accomplishments.

He'll have a lot more to talk about if his horse wins the Longacres Mile.

Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or shanson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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