12/23/2009 12:00AM

Arguello back on track, off to Florida

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Some 18 months ago, Fabio Arguello Jr. was helping his brother in the painting business in Louisville, Ky.

It was a humbling experience and a far cry from the days of the early 1990s, when Arguello was a top jockey in Kentucky, earning thousands of dollars a week.

"My brother had cancer, and I wasn't getting very many mounts anyway," Arguello said. "In the back of my mind, though, I knew I wanted to get back to riding and what I love."

Arguello said his brother, Gilzons Gomez, has since recovered - and the jockey's career is on a similar path. Arguello has ridden nine winners, sixth-most at the holiday meet at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., and he is heading to south Florida for the Gulfstream Park meet that begins Jan. 3.

Arguello, a 37-year-old native of Colombia, began his riding career in the United States in 1990. By 1992, he was challenging Pat Day for supremacy on the Kentucky circuit, winning the Kentucky Oaks that spring on Luv Me Luv Me Not and amassing 270 wins and mount earnings of nearly $4.8 million.

"I was very young, maybe too young to handle my situation," Arguello said.

In December 1994, it all came to a crashing halt when Arguello suffered multiple injuries in a spill at Turfway. He returned to Colombia, where his father, a longtime jockey, died in April 1995. Arguello missed all of that year and then won just four races in 1996. In the years that have passed, he has had numerous stops and starts, including 2008, when he took time off to help his brother and won a mere five races from 108 mounts. His career has never approached the heights he attained in his early years, although he has ridden 36 winners in 2009, his highest total since 1997.

Arguello started attracting notice again at the Churchill Downs fall meet in November, when he had two winners and rode frequently for trainer Tony Reinstedler, who is wintering at Tampa Bay Downs.

"I felt he was riding really, really well," Reinstedler said. "Fabio kind of lost himself a little bit for a while, but he's gotten back on his feet with hard work and the way he listens to you and really pays attention. I'm happy to see him get himself going again. It wasn't a matter of me helping him out at Churchill, he was just doing a darn good job."

Arguello said: "As a rider, it kind of gets to you that at one point you are at the top of the business, and the next time you're kind of halfway down. But now I'm really focused. I'm heading to Florida with the right attitude, hoping to do some good."

Ex-jockey, official Kegel dies at 52

Mary Ellen Hickey Kegel, a jockey for nine years before becoming a racing official on the Kentucky circuit, died Wednesday in her hometown of Lebanon, Ky., after suffering from colon cancer. She was 52.

Under her maiden name, Mary Ellen Hickey, she rode from 1979 to 1987, winning 213 races from 1,806 mounts. Her best year was 1986, when she rode 55 winners, and one of her top clients was trainer Lynn Whiting. Kegel then worked in a variety of capacities, including placing judge and entry clerk, at Kentucky tracks, primarily Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

Kegel was married to former trainer and current bloodstock agent Tim Kegel, with whom she shared two teenage children, Van and Emily.

Visitation was scheduled for Friday, Dec. 25, from 5 to 9 p.m. Eastern at the Campbell-DeWitt Funeral Home in Lebanon, with the funeral service on Saturday.

Track addressing Polytrack concerns

Horsemen have expressed concern with how the Polytrack surface at Turfway has a tendency to ball up and produce a pronounced kickback. At a Dec. 18 meeting among Turfway officials and horsemen's representatives, track superintendent Jeff Chapman said the issues are being addressed and that he is attempting to alleviate the problem by using methods and machinery that work to satisfaction on the Polytrack surfaces at Woodbine and Keeneland.

Especially in colder weather, the Polytrack at Turfway has had a history of balling up in horses' hooves, which can make for potentially unsafe and uncomfortable conditions. Polytrack was installed at Turfway in summer 2005.

Another issue currently under discussion is the elimination of one day of training per week. When Turfway moves to its new schedule of just three days of racing a week in January and February, there is a possibility the track will be closed on Mondays as a cost-saving measure.

* After nine straight days of racing (Dec. 26 to Jan. 3), the three-day schedule at Turfway will begin Jan. 8, with racing conducted on Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Entries have been particularly strong at the holiday meet, which leaves open the possibility of additional dates being restored this winter, although Cliff Reed, chief financial officer at Turfway, said at the Dec. 18 meeting that the more likely scenario would be to card additional races during the three-day weekends.

* Churchill will close its stable area Jan. 1, with the last day of training set for Wednesday, Dec. 30. Churchill traditionally closes for about nine weeks in the winter for regularly scheduled maintenance in the barn area and reopens in early March. A few hundred horses are still at Churchill, and most will scatter to Oaklawn Park or the Trackside training annex near Churchill.