04/22/2002 11:00PM

After one start this year, Jostle is retired

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Elliott Walden is without a Kentucky Derby starter for the third straight year, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a lot going on at his Churchill Downs barn.

Walden, whose three Derby starters have included the 1998 and 1999 runners-up, Victory Gallop and Menifee, reported Tuesday on a recent retirement, a recent purchase, and tentative plans for some of the up-and-coming stars in his stable.

Jostle, the mare purchased by Walden's main client, WinStar Farm, last November at Keeneland's breeding stock sale, has been retired and bred to Storm Cat, said Walden. Jostle, by Brocco, retires with eight wins from 20 starts and earnings of nearly $1.4 million.

"We tried to make a go of it for one more year with her," said Walden, noting that Jostle, who won the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at 3, finished third in the April 5 Banshee Breeze Stakes at Gulfstream Park in her only start at 5. "But she came up with a little problem that led us to retire her."

Partly in an attempt to fill that void, WinStar has purchased Happily Unbridled from owner-trainer Happy Alter. Happily Unbridled, a 4-year-old Unbridled filly, has won four times in 17 career starts, with her latest start being a runner-up finish in the Banshee Breeze. "We bought her both as a racing and broodmare prospect," said Walden.

Meanwhile, with the 16-day Keeneland spring meet ending Friday, Walden said he would "settle for a tie" with D. Wayne Lukas, who, going into the Wednesday card, led Walden and Mark Frostad by a 9-7 margin atop the trainer standings.

"I do have some bullets left, but two wins is a lot to overcome in three days," said Walden, who had a total of five horses scheduled to run Wednesday and Thursday, compared with two for Lukas.

Several of Walden's seven winners at Keeneland have been quite impressive, including Lethal Temper, Storm Craft, and Mr. John.

Lethal Temper, a 3-year-old Seattle Slew filly who remained unbeaten by winning an entry-level allowance race Sunday, "will run in a stakes next time," he said, naming the Dogwood at Churchill, the Nassau County at Belmont, and the Selene at Woodbine as possible options. Owner Mark Stanley paid $800,000 for Lethal Temper when she was a weanling.

Storm Craft and Mr. John, both of whom won allowance races, may run next in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Albarado leads Day

While the trainers' race could provide a bit of drama, so, too, could the jockeys. With three days left, Robby Albarado held a four-win lead over perennial kingpin Pat Day.

Albarado has had a sensational meet while seeking his first-ever Keeneland crown. Meanwhile, Day, has won 19 Keeneland titles.

"I like my chances," said Albarado's agent, Lenny Pike Jr. "But I don't want to say or do anything to jinx us."

Five expected for Stonerside Beaumont

Keeneland stakes coordinator Dan Bork said Tuesday that he expects at least five 3-year-old fillies for the final graded stakes of the meet, the $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes on Friday, closing day of the meet.

Probable starters for the about seven-furlong race include Bold World, Born to Dance, Proper Gamble, Respectful, and Vicki Vallencourt.

The closing-day card also will feature the $175,000 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings, a Grade 1 steeplechase. Renowned author Dick Francis also will be on hand to sign his latest book, "Shattered."

Nafzger's Oaks contenders work

Trainer Carl Nafzger's two prospects for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks, Belterra and Take the Cake, were out for separate workouts Tuesday morning. Jon Court was aboard both fillies.

Belterra, who underwent throat surgery April 8 to correct a breathing problem, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.60.

"Her breathing was clean," said Court. "She was eager to get to work."

About an hour earlier, Take the Cake went five furlongs in 59.20, handily. Rene Douglas, who currently is serving a suspension but will return to action Sunday at Churchill, has the mount on Take the Cake.

The number of prospects for the Oaks stands firm at 11, with You, Bella Bellucci, Take Charge Lady, and Tempera among them.

Successful Romero auction

The auction and dinner to benefit ailing retired jockey Randy Romero was a phenomenal success. About $105,000 was raised at the event Sunday night at Furlongs restaurant in Lexington.

"I'd hoped to be able to give Randy a check for $20,000 or so," said Tommy Walters, Furlongs's owner and a close friend of Romero's. "To get this much response, I don't know what to say or how to thank everybody. It was just incredible."

Romero, 44, has been informed by his doctors that he needs liver and kidney transplants. He is currently undergoing dialysis three days a week in Louisville, where he lives.

Among the most profitable items donated to the auction were breeding seasons to Salt Lake, Mazel Trick, and Brahms, and a halter worn by Personal Ensign. Walters said that seemingly simple items such as a napkin and Furlongs's menu - both autographed by Keeneland's jockeys - were bought for $800 and $1,000, respectively.

One of the highlights of the evening was a televised tribute to Romero's life and career. The piece was provided by Keeneland's in-house television producer, Galjour Electronics.

Another benefit concert and auction is scheduled for May 2 in Louisville at the popular country-music night spot Coyote's. Shane Sellers, along with many of the Kentucky Derby jockeys, is expected to make an appearance.

Round-the-clock track maintenance

Butch Lehr, who since 1976 has been responsible for the maintenance of the Churchill racing surface, had his staff work around the clock into Monday morning, when heavy rains threatened to hinder a number of important workouts for the Derby and Oaks.

The track was sealed overnight, and with the weather turning better by dawn, Lehr eventually was able to open it up. "This track loves a hard rain," he said. "It drains better than any track in the country."

Lehr, who was subject to some criticism last year when the track produced inordinately fast times on Derby Day, said he has not received one complaint about the track so far this spring.

* For the first time, video footage of workouts for the Derby and Oaks are available on the Internet at kentuckyderby.com. Churchill, along with Television Games Network and Charlson Broadcast Technologies, are collaborating on the project.