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Horse Racing: Lawyer leisurely races at Meadows

Sunday, February 02, 2003

By Pohla Smith, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Meadows trainer Aaron Mulrooney only races on Saturdays -- he's kind of busy on weekdays.

A lawyer and holder of a master's degree in business administration, Mulrooney, 38, of Silver Lake, Ohio, is a graduate coordinator of Kent State University's School of Exercise, Leisure and Sports. He also teaches at the undergraduate and graduate levels. His four courses are: financial aspects of sports, leisure and law, legal issues in sports and recreation, and facility management.

"I could probably [race] Fridays," said Mulrooney, who started training in August. "I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays. But Friday is mares day and I don't have any." The Meadows features races for fillies and mares on Friday nights.

He trains his horses mornings at an Ohio farm near him.

Last time Mulrooney looked, his UDRS, or the percentage of times his horses are first, second and third, was ".250 or something." But he and the owner of his horses, longtime friend Tom Brennan of Shamrock Racing Stable, prefer to measure success by the number of times they get a check. Harness racing pays decreasing shares of the purse to the first five finishers.

"I'm pretty good at getting checks. Winning I need to do a little better at," Mulrooney said. "Fifth is positive cash flow, it pays for feed or shipping or something ... shutouts are hard to swallow."

Mulrooney and Brennan got involved in harness racing as owners six years ago. They were looking for a business opportunity, he said, "and horse racing seemed to be a good fit. It was exciting, there was some risk and there was the possibility of great reward." They bought a couple of horses and turned them over to Craig Stein to train at Northfield Park in Cleveland.

Unlike some trainers, Stein didn't mind Mulrooney hanging around the barn. In fact, he taught Mulrooney what he needed to know to take over training Shamrock, which comprises 13 racehorses, four broodmares and six foals and yearlings.

"I was allowed to jog the horses," Mulrooney said. "I learned a lot by watching him. He told me a lot of things, and I got a lot of hands on experience."

So far, Mulrooney has left the driving to Brian Zendt.

"I might drive this summer," he said. "I have some interest in it. But I like training. I like working with the animals during the week, trying to correct things that are wrong. Better to leave the driving to someone who knows what he's doing, like Brian."

Mulrooney went to the harness races only once before he and Brennan bought their first horses.

His wife had just gotten her real estate license, and the two of them went out to eat to celebrate. Afterward, they were looking for something to do the rest of the evening and saw the sign for Northfield. They decided to stop in and see what it was like.

"It was the old beginner's luck story," he said. "I bet $2 and my horse came in and paid $110. I took the program home and looked at it and because I'm in sports management I talked to the P.R. guy.

"That's kind of how I got into it. ... Then I lined up with Tom and went from there."

Mulrooney also has a little bit of harness racing in his pedigree.

"My great-grandfather was into harness racing. My dad told me after I got into it. The horse's name was Don Directum. He raced at the fairs and he was down in Amish country. Then he sold him. The horse was kind of a novelty. They called him the Guideless Wonder. He could go around the track twice, go to the winner's circle and then back to the paddock with nobody driving him. My dad had a picture of the horse with a little dummy sitting in the sulky.

"I didn't think I had any harness racing in my blood anywhere, but there was."

When he started training, he raced briefly on Northfield's half-mile track, which is closer to his home. But he said that primarily was because he hadn't yet bought a truck and trailer.

"I don't mind half-mile racing, but if you draw outside that's tough. I had a couple horses that I thought would be much better on a bigger track. [The Meadows is 5/8-mile]," Mulrooney said. "Plus, I'd raced here before and liked it."

The trip to The Meadows takes him between an hour and 45 minutes to two hours.

Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.

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