04/13/2006 11:00PM

Black nears milestone 5,000th win

Bill Denver/EquiPhotos
Tony Black, at Philly Park, ranks 20th all-time in wins among jockeys.

Tony Black has been on the verge of a major career milestone for more than a month. At age 54, riding only one or two mounts a day at Philadelphia Park, the wins have come more like a trickle than the steady flow Black has produced during most of his 35-year riding career.

Going into Saturday, Black had 4,997 winners, but he said there has been no self-imposed pressure to reach 5,000. Since March 1, Black is just 5 for 36, as his race toward 5,000 has progressed only slightly faster than Barry Bonds's chase of Babe Ruth's 714 home runs.

All of a sudden, however, there's a sense of urgency for Black to reach the milestone before next weekend.

Black admitted he would love to ride No. 5,000 at Philadelphia Park, where he has won five riding titles. Since he plans to regularly ride at Delaware Park once the season begins there on April 22, Black would prefer to get the three wins he needs before then.

"I would love to do it at Philly," Black said Tuesday, shortly after he rode Scorese Kids, his first of two winners on the card. "I've been taking things easy all winter. But now I'm gearing up and getting ready to ride as many as I can. I plan on riding four on Saturday and three or four more a day on Monday and Tuesday."

If the script works out perfectly, Black's 5,000th winner will come for Walter and Cynthia Reese, two of his closest friends among trainers and owners.

"This is how much I think of Cynthia and Walter," Black said. "I have a nine-month-old daughter and I named her after them. Her full name is Madison Reese Black."

Only 19 other jockeys in North American racing history have reached 5,000 wins. Among active riders, only Russell Baze, Earlie Fires, Mario Pino, and Edgar Prado have more wins than Black, whose best horses include Eclipse Award winners Candy Eclair, My Juliet, and What a Summer.

Yet, Black modestly said that he considers 5,000 wins a nice personal goal but nothing extraordinary in the annals of racing history.

"If you look at the big picture, getting to 5,000 wins is a small ripple on a big pond," said Black, who began his career by winning with his first mount on June 15, 1970, at now-defunct Liberty Bell Park in Philadelphia. He reached 4,000 on July 13, 1999, at Philly Park and 4,500 three years later at Delaware.

He conceded, however, that reaching 5,000 will be "an amazing feat because I've had to overcome a lot along the way."

"Early in my career, I had problems with drugs and alcohol," he said, "and there were eight or nine years where I had very little activity riding. It's been nice to have a second chance and to do something with it."

Black said he chose to take things slow this winter, riding only for long-time connections on a selective basis. Now that the weather is getting nicer and his agent, Ed Fair, has returned from Florida, he expects his business to pick up.

Black said as long he's healthy and competitive, he has no plans to quit. His win percentage this year is still a well-above-average 24 percent (24 for 102).

"I feel good and I take care of myself," said Black, who can tack 116 pounds. "If I felt I couldn't do a good job or that I was embarrassing myself, I would stop. But I still feel like I can ride."

Considering there are plenty of trainers at Philly Park and Delaware more than willing to book Tony Black to ride their horses, it's clear the final chapter of his riding career hasn't been written yet.