07/11/2002 12:00AM

At 44, a career meeting


OCEANPORT, N.J. - In the midst of what he said may be the best meet of his 23-year career, jockey Eddie King turned 44 on Tuesday. It would be hard to tell that from the way he has been riding this summer.

King was a regular at Monmouth in the early-1990's through 1999, but was put on the shelf in December 1999 with the residual effects from a broken back suffered in a 1997 spill. He has returned to riding full-time at Monmouth this year with a vengeance, after riding briefly here the last two years. Last year, he rode at Delaware Park regularly, and in limited mounts here he won one race out of 20. Two years ago, he only had six wins after recovering from the complications of his 1997 spill.

With two winners Thursday, King is tied for fourth in the jockey standings with Jose Ferrer, with 30 wins.

King said Thursday morning he is in the best shape of his life and feels rejuvenated at this stage of his career.

"I love riding here," King said. "This is pretty much my home nowadays. The longest I've been at a track is at Monmouth."

King has ridden throughout the country since winning his first race in 1979 at Centennial in Colorado. Yet he said this summer may be the best meet of his career, and definitely ranks up there with the meets he had in the mid-1980's at Sportsman's Park.

King, born in New Mexico, started his career out West before moving East in 1989. He firmly established himself in the early 1990's at Monmouth and rose to prominence with top handicap horse Frisk Me Now from 1996 through 1999.

King said he has changed his riding style slightly since the spill that sidelined him for a substantial period. "Maybe I learned from the injury to do things a little different," he said. "I use my hands more, not my back. I'm not being so brave, and staying away from horses with bad habits that can cause injuries."

King started the meet strongly and has been consistent through the meet, which as of Friday is halfway done. But in recent weeks he has begun to heat up, and a run to the top of the standings is not out of the question. King has never finished in the top five of the standings at a Monmouth meeting, and this season it looks likely that he will do so for the first time.

But at 44, King has just gotten better with age.

"For most riders, you ride 10-12 years before you really learn how to ride," King said. "At a certain point you grow up and focus on what your job is. I've learned how to read the races very well. That's where age comes in."

Delaware trip for Cool N Collective

Cool N Collective, who ran second in the Grade 2 Pegasus at The Meadowlands two years ago, will make his second start for trainer Dennis Manning at Delaware Park on Monday in a four-other-than optional claiming allowance.

Cool N Collective made his debut out of the Manning barn on June 8 after a year layoff since moving from the barn of Steve Asmussen. A 5-year-old, Cool N Collective won the allowance race at Delaware by a neck and returns on Monday off three very strong workouts over the Monmouth strip since then. On Wednesday, he breezed four furlongs in 48.80 seconds.

Manning said if Cool N Collective, owned by Earle Mack, runs well Monday, a return in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile on July 27 could be a possibility.

* Joe's Son Joey, who ran second in the John McSorley Stakes at five furlongs on the turf last Sunday, will make a return trip to Woodbine in Canada, for his next start on Aug. 17, the Grade 3 Play the King Stakes at seven furlongs on the grass. Joe's Son Joey ran second in the Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine June 23. Trainer Tim Hills said he rushed back Joe's Son Joey too soon in the McSorley, but the horse came out of the race well.

* Platinum Tiara, who made her debut for trainer John Kimmel with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Matchmaker Handicap on the turf last Sunday, will stay at Monmouth with Kimmel's satellite barn instead of going back to New York to the main stable, said Brian Ange, a Kimmel assistant. Ange said Platinum Tiara would point for the Grade 3 Eatontown on Aug. 4.