02/07/2004 1:00AM

Bourque hangs up tack


NEW ORLEANS - Curt Bourque on Saturday confirmed widespread reports that he is retiring from riding, but Bourque left open the possibility of a comeback.

Bourque, 36 and a native of Erath, La., has ridden at sanctioned meets since 1984, recording his first victory that year at Jefferson Downs outside New Orleans. Bourque has long been viewed as a talented rider, but he has fought problems with substance abuse, and was out of the game at various times.

Now, it is his size that has taken Bourque out of action. Bourque said he suddenly decided last week to stop riding at Fair Grounds because he could no longer hold his weight down at the level required of a jockey.

"I just woke up the other morning and realized my body's been telling me to stop," Bourque said.

That was Wednesday, and Bourque told his agent, Paul Pembo, to take him off his mounts for Thursday, and to stop booking rides for him.

Bourque, riding at 118 pounds just last weekend, weighed 136 on Friday. "I gained 10 pounds in two days," Bourque said.

Bourque has been fighting his weight for a long time, but he said the decision to stop riding came quickly. "It was a surprise to everyone," he said. "My parents didn't even know."

Bourque said his immediate plans were uncertain. "I've got some opportunities on the outside [of racing]," he said. "I don't know. I'm not saying I'm going to be back. I might be back in six months."

Bourque, a winner of more than 3,000 races, stopped riding in good form. With 31 winners, he ranks sixth in the Fair Grounds jockey standings. He has won riding titles at Evangeline Downs, Delta Downs, Sportsman's Park, and Hawthorne Race Course.

They're coming from California

Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes could have a California flavor. A flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans is scheduled for Wednesday, and it could carry horses for both the Silverbulletday and Sunday's Risen Star Stakes, a prep for the Louisiana Derby.

Fair Grounds racing officials are fairly certain that Hollywood Story, one of the top fillies in California, is coming for the Silverbulletday. Also possible for the race is Class Above, who won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies, but ran poorly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Locally based possible starters include Josie G and Love Power, second and third in the Tiffany Lass Stakes, and Sister Swank.

The state of the Risen Star is less settled. Mr. Jester, expected to ship in from Oaklawn, heads the field, and Proper Prado, another Oakawn-based horse, also might come for the race.

Sun finally shines

Finally, on Saturday, the sun came out at Fair Grounds. Turf races stayed on the grass course for the first time this week, and there was hope for more grass racing on Monday. That would be good for the featured ninth, a highly competitive entry-level allowance that drew a full field of 10, with three also-eligibles.

Many of these horses look similar on paper, and Mr. Romeo exemplifies the type. He has raced against first-level allowance horses five times, and even broke through with a first-place finish on this course last March but was disqualified for bumping a rival. Mr. Romeo continues his quest to climb the allowance ladder. He finished second, beaten a head, in his most recent start, but he hardly has a stranglehold on the race.

Silverfoot, a gelding with just three career starts, was hot on Mr. Romeo's heels last time, and he has a chance to move forward and win. Gimme an A also lost by less than a length in his last start, a turf sprint, while Neuf de Carreau comes out of the Woodchopper Handicap.