06/14/2006 11:00PM

Best start of career for Polkey

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Mississippi-born Melissa Polkey was 18 when she started riding as an apprentice in 1989. It took her four years to lose her weight allowance.

Until last year at the Fort, when she scored 28 times, Polkey had never completed a full season anywhere. Along the way she had ridden in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia.

It was a sputtering career, and Polkey left no mark anywhere, giving birth to three children and suffering numerous injuries, including a broken back twice. In 1997 she packed it in after a brief return at Charles Town following the birth of her third child.

"I was riding bad horses, and I was practically blind," said Polkey, adding that she was hurt by taunts "that I couldn't ride my way out of a wet paper bag."

Polkey did continue as an exercise rider at Charles Town.

A marriage and move to Canada followed in 2003. Polkey had laser eye surgery done here and was prodded by her husband to return to the saddle.

Polkey is having her best start ever at this meet. She has eight wins and is in 11th place in the Fort's jockey standings. She credits her husband, Toronto native Andrew Weymes, with reviving a modest career. They met at Charles Town, where he was also exercising runners.

"I resisted for a year," said Polkey. "I couldn't have done it on my own. I messed around during the short meet in 2004."

Fort Erie held an abbreviated meet in 2004 to accommodate the installation of a new main track.

Trainer Mike Osborne, who has five wins at the meet, is a big backer of Polkey. Three of his winners were ridden by her.

"She tries harder than anyone on the whole racetrack," said Osborne. "And it doesn't matter what their chances are."

Females have first two-furlong dash

Hot and Cold, trained by Campbell Wilson and owned by Ron Cotnam, won Monday's two-furlong race by 2 1/4 lengths in 22.33 seconds. It was the first dash of the year for fillies and mares.

Back in second was Tobin's Gabby, who triumphed in four of these dashes last year.

The two-furlong races, a popular fan feature, are written in three-week intervals, with one for each sex. The first time one was in the condition book the race for the females didn't fill. On Monday, six runners went to the post.

Tuesday, a race listed for the males didn't fill. The males did have a go three weeks ago, when Bermuda Triangle came out on top in a field of 10.

The dashes were run at the $12,500 level last year. This year that claiming price was lowered to $10,000, and it appears that few want to lose a speedster for this sum.

"The lower level was designed to try and prevent winning streaks of eight or nine," said Daryl Ezra, the track announcer and member of the track's advisory committee. "We might raise it next year," he said.

Stormin on Merit and Pembroke Hall had lengthy winning streaks in the two-furlong dashes in recent years.