11/28/2001 12:00AM

Around the Ovals

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Fairmount rider overcomes loss to win title

Jockey Vincente Flores wrapped up his first leading rider title Saturday night at Fairmount Park. But Flores's 148 wins at the meet are not the most important thing to have happened in his life this meet.

On March 2, Flores's wife, Nicole, gave birth to a son, Mateo Vincente. The boy died of sudden infant death syndrome two months later on May 2.

"At first I just wanted to quit everything," Flores said. "But I was truly inspired by the support of the people on the backstretch."

At the time of his son's death, Flores was fifth in the local standings. Realizing that he had to go on with his life, Flores, always known as a hard worker, threw himself into his work with even more determination, and dedicated the rest of the season to his son's memory.

"The hard work was good for me because it helped keep my mind off my Mateo's death. Dedicating the season to him gave me a strong sense of purpose," Flores said.

Flores plans to ride at Hawthorne through the fall and at Oaklawn Park when that meet opens Jan. 25.

A major part of Flores's success came for trainer Ralph Martinez and his main owner, Louis O'Brien, both of whom also enjoyed phenomenal meetings. Martinez, who trains privately for O'Brien, saddled 412 horses at the meet, 157 of which won, good for a 38 percent win rate. Martinez, 23, ranks ninth nationally in wins with 172 overall; O'Brien ranks third in the country in wins for an owner.

- Rod Peck

Hawthorne

In one of the final turf races to be run at the Hawthorne meet, Flamin' Jolie was an impressive 5 3/4-length winner of a two-other-than allowance going about 1 1/16 miles. The Arthur Appleton homebred has now reeled off three straight wins beginning with his maiden victory Oct. 6 at Arlington. Flamin' Jolie was absent from the races nearly 11 months before returning to action in mid-September.

Illinois-bred fillies and mares will be featured in Saturday's $100,000 Little Sucker Stakes. Sunday's feature is the $40,000-added Colonel Power, an overnight stakes for older horses going 1 1/16 miles.

- Vance Hanson

Hoosier Park

ANDERSON, Ind. - Apprentice rider Martin Escobar escaped serious injury in the final race Monday night. Escobar was thrown hard to the ground shortly after the start of the six-furlong race when his mount, Iron Hope, broke down along the inside rail.

While his rivals were able to avoid the downed rider, Escobar lay motionless on the track until well after the race was completed. He will ride this weekend.

o The Milltown Starter Handicap Series winds up Friday night. Carded as the first race on the card, a field of nine will be tested at 1 7/8 miles for a $22,000 purse. Code De captured two legs of the series, with wins at 1 1/16 and 1 9/16 miles. He was a troubled second to Pete's Skianno in the 1 5/8-mile leg on Nov. 16 when lacking room near the quarter pole. Olechunkofcoal has been closing strongly as the distances have gotten longer and should be flying late in Friday's race.

- Bill Hodtwalker

Manor Downs

Manor Downs - a Class 2 track near Austin that is set to conduct its inaugural Thoroughbred meet next spring after expanding its oval to seven furlongs - will open as a training center Saturday. The track will provide published workouts, and officials said having horses on the grounds this winter will help work the new surface into shape. As of last week, about 200 horses were already committed to stable at Manor.

Manor Downs will open for its traditional Quarter Horse meet Feb. 16. The 18-day season runs through April 14, and will be followed by a Thoroughbred meet that could start as early as April 27. Track officials will ask the Texas Racing Commission at a meeting Monday to change the track's Thoroughbred dates from the awarded 10 days, from May 11 to June 9, to 11 days, from April 27 to May 27.

Purses for Thoroughbreds will average $50,000 to $55,000 a day, said Manor Downs racing secretary Sammy Burton.

- Mary Rampellini

Sunland

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Sunland Park has received final approval from the State of New Mexico for an additional 300 slot machines, which are scheduled to go into use by Dec. 8. Sunland, which has had 300 slots in use since 1999, had already built a 29,000-square-foot addition to the casino in anticipation of the new machines being approved. Another 150 could be added next year.

The new machines will translate into more purse money. Sunland immediately announced that the stakes program will get a $500,000 boost, much of which will go into statebred stakes. Open stakes that will benefit include the Riley Allison Futurity on Dec. 30, boosted from $45,000-added to $100,000-added. The tracks signature races for 3-year-olds, the Sunland Park Oaks and Riley Allison Derby, to be run March 30 and 31, respectively, have been raised from $40,000-added to $75,000.

- Rod Peck

Thistledown

NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - A racing rarity occurred here Monday, when the first race was made official and every win, place, and show price on the board returned $2.10. First Dibbs, who was sent off as the 1-20 favorite, cakewalked to a 10 1/4-length win over her five Ohio-bred maiden rivals. Speedy Tradition, the second choice in the six-horse field at 7-1, finished second, and Spend Your Raise, the third choice at 9-1, was third. The three other horses in the race were sent off at 33-1, 38-1, and 77-1.

First Dibbs's most recent start was at Keeneland, where she finished second for a $50,000 tag. In her other two career starts she was fourth at Arlington Park and fifth at Churchill Downs. There were minus place and show pools on the race of $7.37 and $31.28, respectively.

Thursday, Dec. 27 has been added to the racing schedule here as a makeup day for Sept. 12, when racing was canceled.

Post time switched to noon here on Monday, Dec. 3. Racing continues through Dec. 31.

- Chuck Scaravilli