11/29/2002 12:00AM

Aside from seafood and weather, D'Amico won't miss Florida


Turfway Park normally means a winter of content for veteran jockey Tony D'Amico. Having ridden there regularly since the mid-1980's, D'Amico ranks among Turfway's all-time leaders in virtually every riding category, a reflection of his success and consistency through time.

Last year, however, D'Amico - who began his career in 1974 - chose to forsake a winter at Turfway, for good reason. D'Amico was the regular rider of Harlan's Holiday, Repent, and Take Charge Lady, all of whom had traveled to Florida with trainer Ken McPeek. Clearly, D'Amico had little choice but to stay close to his potential bonanzas.

But as winter began giving way to spring, those high hopes began to melt for D'Amico. He lost the mount on Repent, then Harlan's Holiday. He rode Take Charge Lady to a runner-up finish in the Kentucky Oaks in May, but eventually lost the mount on her, too.

This year, D'Amico, 47, has no plans to return to Florida. He will be firmly entrenched in the jockeys room at Turfway when it opens for four months of racing on Sunday, just as he usually has been in previous years.

"I'm excited about it," said D'Amico. "I'll miss the warm weather and seafood in Florida, but the good thing is how comfortable I am being home with my family."

He wife's name is Mindy and they have a 7-year-old son, Austin. "Last year, I just hated being away from them for such a long time," D'Amico said.

Although he has been leading rider at past Turfway meets, D'Amico said he merely wants to "give it a good try this winter. You always want to be leading rider, and I usually do real well at Turfway. We'll see how it goes."

Spooky Mulder heads allowance feature

The lone allowance race on the 10-race opening-day card drew a field of nine 3-year-olds and upward.

Spooky Mulder, who has been having a productive year for trainer Donnie Habeeb, could be the one to beat under veteran rider Charlie Woods Jr. Spooky Mulder drew the rail in the six-furlong feature, a $23,600 race restricted by entry-level conditions.

Two other contenders in the race are Cold Stone Steve, a sharp maiden winner at the Churchill meet, and Bert's Nicky, who has been racing mostly on grass this year for Mike Tammaro.

Maybe the best betting race on the undercard is the fifth, which drew a full field of maiden special weight 2-year-olds.

The first of four stakes at the holiday meet comes Saturday, the $50,000 Holiday Inaugural for filly and mare sprinters.

Typically, Turfway will run 50 races a week: nine on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 on Fridays and Sundays, and 12 on Saturdays.

Dining room to reopen

Last fall, Turfway closed its fifth-floor dining room during most racing programs, reflecting how poorly business had been going. As a measure of encouragement this year, the dining room will be open every Friday and Saturday for buffet dining.

On the other hand, the winter weather precludes using of the new outdoor beer garden, which was one of the more popular ontrack venues during the fall meet.