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LOS ALAMITOS : Positron Provides Positive Boost for the Fortunes of Trainer Pena

April 14, 1993|STEVE ANDERSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lou Pena can credit his success this year to a 6-year-old horse named Positron, the number one horse in the 24-year-old trainer's barn for the last four years and the fastest horse at Los Alamitos this spring.

Pena has been in the top 10 in both the driver and trainer standings at Los Alamitos this season, a far cry from his position last fall, when he won only eight of 88 attempts and finished 19th in the standings. Through Saturday, he had driven only 20 races and the meeting still has two weeks remaining.

"It's been a tremendous year," he said. "The stable's exploded. Before, I couldn't get many (catch) drives. This meet's not over and I have over 100 drives. Before, I'd be lucky to get 50 drives and win eight or 10 races.

"I'm a year older and the horses that I'm carrying are a little better. Positron stands by himself, but my cheap horses fit their brackets a little better."

He credits much of the success to Positron, who Pena has raced each week this season in the invitational handicap, the top race for older pacers. The horse has given Pena a weekly spotlight and has led to opportunities with other trainers, who have called on him to drive their horses.

"Without him, I'd have seven or eight horses and probably not as much popularity," he said. "I'd have maybe five drives a week."

Pena purchased Positron as a 2-year-old in early 1989 at a sale in Pomona. He attended the sale with Andy Taylor of Whittier, a longtime harness fan who was interested in a racing prospect. Taylor gave Pena $10,000 for the sale, looking for a horse for the state-bred sires stakes.

"I told him I wasn't sure about spending that much money on a baby," Pena said. "But (Andy) wanted something for the stakes.

"When I saw (Positron) at the sale, I said, 'That's a pretty horse,' and we agreed that he wasn't bad looking," Pena said. "So I said, 'Let's take a gamble.' We bid on him, got him and we were done for the day."

Pena paid $500.

The sires stakes are held during the 2- and 3-year-old seasons, but Positron made only one start at 2, finishing seventh in a cheap maiden race in July of 1989, at Sacramento. Pena pulled the horse off the track for surgery to remove bone chips in his knees.

He didn't start again until March of 1990, but returned a much better horse. He was competitive through the spring and summer, and improved greatly during the fall at Los Alamitos. He won the California Breeders Stakes for 3-year-old pacers, his first stakes victory. He followed with a second in the Electioneer Futurity, ending the year with more than $48,000 in earnings. Nearly two years after the sale, Taylor owned a stakes winner.

"We started him in March (of 1990) and we never had any trouble (with soundness)," Pena said. "I think I'm just blessed. I race him week after week, and he just goes."

In 1991, Pena raced Positron in California and New Jersey, shifting to the East Coast after the California season ended in July. Positron's career was on an upswing. His victories weren't as frequent or as rapid as during his 3-year-old season, but they were coming against better horses.

The trip east included a victory in a conditioned race at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, considered the nation's top harness track. The winning time of 1:53 3/5 was a career best.

"Winning at the Meadowlands was like winning my first drive," Pena said. "That felt good. He was against horses who'd paced (a mile in 1:51). All the top drivers came up to me afterward and shook my hand."

The Meadowlands victory was Positron's last of 1991 and proved to Pena that the horse could compete with the nation's finest.

In terms of prize money, 1992 was Positron's best season, but Pena wasn't able to enjoy it. He was out of action until late May while serving a six-month suspension handed down by the New Jersey Racing Commission in November of 1991. He was allegedly involved in a horse-tampering incident along with fellow California horsemen Eddie Hensley and Steve Hyman, both of whom were suspended.

Pena trained the horse during the winter of 1991-92, but when the horses went to Los Alamitos, he went to a local farm looking for work.

"It was hard to get by," he said. "I barely survived it, those were hard times for sure. I think they made examples of us. We weren't from New Jersey, and were too broke to afford lawyers."

Pena resumed training at Sacramento last summer. In 1992, Positron earned more than $92,000, winning eight of 28 starts. For the most part, he stuck to the California circuit, although at the end of October, Pena took Positron to Cloverdale in British Columbia, where he finished third in the B.C. Classic, a race that might also be on this year's agenda.

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