07/15/2001 11:00PM

Agents keep rivalry boiling


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The battle for leading rider at Arlington Park continued to tighten Sunday with Rene Douglas pulling to within one win, 29-28, of Mark Guidry. While Guidry and Douglas have spoken respectfully of one another and both say they are focused merely on performing well, their agents, closely intertwined in their relationships with both riders, are waging a war of boasts.

Last week Dennis Cooper, who represents Douglas but was Guidry's agent until May, flatly predicted Douglas would win the Arlington riding title. Not surprisingly, Ronnie Ebanks, who represented Shane Sellers before his injury last winter, then took Corey Nakatani's book before picking up Guidry during Kentucky Derby week, believes otherwise. In fact, Ebanks has proposed a $10,000 wager with Cooper on who will be the meet's leading rider.

"I'm getting tired of just hearing about it," Ebanks said over the weekend. "If there's some money at stake, well, that would give me a little more reason to get up in the morning."

The whole dynamic in the local jockey colony is shifting, and the changes will affect both Douglas and Guidry. Robby Albarado, the second-leading rider at the recently concluded Churchill meet and the leading rider here in 1996, will begin riding regularly at Arlington this weekend. And twin brothers Lonnie and Donnie Meche, both of whom have some loyal clients, also will have an effect on business.

In all, top mounts will be tougher for everyone to find, including Douglas and Guidry. Ebanks is counting on connections he made here with Sellers in the 1990's and during his own riding career, which ended in 1987, to maintain his edge. Cooper has fewer national connections than Ebanks, but is a tireless worker and has great credibility with many Chicago clients.

It was Ebanks's greater national base, however, that contributed to Guidry's switch in May after about 12 years with Cooper. According to Guidry, the change had been brewing even though he and Cooper had a surprisingly successful winter in Florida and spring in Kentucky. "It was something coming on for a while," Guidry said. "There were personality conflicts. To me, it was about a team effort, and I didn't always feel that. Maybe we were together too long. We did have a great run."

Guidry was suspended for a drug positive in May, came out firing at Arlington and opened a commanding lead, which Douglas has steadily whittled away in recent weeks. Douglas took advantage of Guidry's absence Saturday - when he rode Hattiesburg to a stakes win at Calder - to win four races.

Guidry, who has not gotten well established on major circuits outside Chicago, wants to set a regular schedule: Gulfstream in the winter, Kentucky in the spring, and Arlington in the summer and fall. December is vacation. "Mentally I'm happy right now," he said. "I'm just grateful for what I'm doing, for what I've got."

He will leave the predictions to his agent.

Baptize's status uncertain

News from Arlington racing officials had Arlington Classic winner Baptize pulling out of Sunday's American Derby. Neither trainer Bill Mott nor assistant trainer Ralph Nicks could be reached to confirm that report Monday.

Despite the absence of Baptize, the American Derby still is shaping up with a short field. It is one of two Grade 2 stakes to be run here this weekend, with the $400,000 Washington Park to be run here Saturday.

* A third-level sprint allowance race highlights Wednesday's nine-race program. Group Leader, with Guidry named to ride by trainer Mickey Goldfine, has found a good spot in which to win his fourth career race. The Illinois-bred Out of My Way is a front-running threat.