04/19/2005 11:00PM

An activist goes Hollywood


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Mark Guidry dove headfirst into the Southern California circuit and lived to tell the tale. Now he is ready for chapter two.

Guidry will be riding his first Hollywood Park meet commencing with Friday's opening night program, which starts the 66th season of racing at this valuable expanse of southwestern Los Angeles County real estate. The Hollywood stand comes on the heels of Guidry's first full Santa Anita meeting, during which he rode 168 horses and won 23 races, accounting for purses of just under $1.2 million.

The highlight of Guidry's winter and early spring was his upset of the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby aboard Buzzards Bay, a colt he is hoping to join on May 7 at Churchill Downs in the post parade for the Kentucky Derby. For icing, Guidry added the San Simeon Handicap on this past Monday's closing-day program with Shadow of Illinois.

In terms of the final Santa Anita standings, Guidry could be found in 14th place, well short of leader Pat Valenzuela. But where else can you go 14 deep on the leader board and hire a guy who has already ridden 4,681 winners. That was Guidry's total through Monday.

As an 18-time champion at Chicago area tracks, Guidry is accustomed to finding himself a little higher in the charts. Still, he ended Santa Anita in a cluster with such familiar names as Alex Solis, Corey Nakatani, Gary Stevens and Mike Smith - good company, to be sure, and somewhat less controversial than another band of 14 riding brothers Guidry found himself among last fall.

Those headlines were not pretty - "14 jockeys banned by Churchill Downs," and variations on the theme. Guidry, a senior member of the Jockeys' Guild, was one of the marquee names who declined to ride at Churchill Downs last November over the issue of ontrack accident insurance coverage. Veterans Robby Albarado, Calvin Borel, and Willie Martinez were also among the riders who walked, then were locked out. Legal action is still pending over the walkout/lockout. In the meantime, Churchill Downs has taken steps to increase ontrack accident coverage from $100,000 to $1 million. Hollywood Park, a Churchill Downs track, is covered by the state of California's workers' compensation insurance.

"It was tough," Guidry said of the walkout. "I'd be watching TV and see all my horses win without me. I know I lost business because of it."

There was even a grumble or two among California horsemen when Guidry hit the local scene, trailing the Kentucky situation behind him. Guidry and his agent, Paul Truitt, kept their focus on finding mounts and establishing relationships with trainers who could cut through the politics.

"He's not just a jockey, he's a horseman," said Jeff Mullins, trainer of Buzzards Bay. "You can count the riders like that on one hand."

Guidry has no regrets about taking the action he did in Kentucky over insurance coverage.

"What I did in Kentucky - and I speak only for myself - I believed in wholeheartedly," Guidry said. "I thought we handled it in a proper way. They didn't. We kept being told there was a better solution. But we'd been waiting for a better solution for so long that there came a time we had to act. Do I think we would be looking at coverage of a million dollars now if we hadn't acted? I don't think so.

"See, I'm at a point where I can basically take care of myself and my family," Guidry noted. "But what about the riders who can't? That's who I was doing it for - not myself. Without guys like Johnny Longden and Eddie Arcaro, and what they did before us, we'd still be chasing our money out there. There would be no improvements in safety. Generation to generation, things have to change. And you know, for all my career, for all my accomplishments, what we were able to do back there will be the thing I'm most proud of."

After a career that began in his native Louisiana and took him through Chicago, Florida, Kentucky, and New York, Guidry now considers himself a California rider, for as long as California will have him. He is planning to celebrate his 46th birthday in August while riding at Del Mar.

"If everybody in the country would treat their riders like they do here in California, they would have no beefs, no qualms about nothing," Guidry said. "Coming from the outside, the difference is unbelievable."

Asked why, Guidry ticked off an all-star California roster, beginning with Laffit Pincay, Eddie Delahoussaye and Chris McCarron.

"Whenever they spoke, people had enough respect for these Hall of Fame riders to listen," Guidry said. "They were taken seriously. Changes were made. Bills got carried to the legislature and passed. Other places, in my opinion, they don't want to hear what riders have to say.

"The only thing bad out here is the short fields," Guidry added. "Some days you find yourself riding just one horse. But good people keep telling me to hang in there, and I believe them. I'd love to spend my last five years of riding right here."