12/21/2005 1:00AM

Castanon to begin new year back in Tampa


As soon as the holiday meet at Turfway Park ends Dec. 31, jockey Jesus Castanon will move his tack to Tampa Bay Downs, where he has been the leading rider the last two seasons.

Castanon, who is having the best year of his 17-year career, holds a slim lead atop the Turfway standings. His agent, Danny Gargan, confirmed Wednesday that Castanon will begin riding at Tampa on Jan. 1.

This has been a breakthrough year for Castanon, who was easily the leading rider at the Ellis Park summer meet and finished fifth in an extremely tough jockeys' race last month at the Churchill Downs fall meet. Going into this week, Castanon has won 219 races and his mounts have earned more than $3.8 million. Both are career highs.

Castanon surely will not be the leading rider at Tampa for the third straight year, if only because he will be arriving late and leaving early. The 94-day Tampa meet began Dec. 10 and runs through May 7, and Gargan said he and Castanon plan to be back in Kentucky in plenty of time for the Keeneland spring meet that begins April 7.

Castanon, a 32-year-old native of Mexico City, has ridden in the United States since 1989. He is married to trainer Rolanda Simpson, who also will be moving her small stable to Tampa when the calendar turns to 2006 next week.

Not that many Turfway fans would notice, but the holiday meet ends

Dec. 31 and the winter-spring meet begins Jan. 1. Such a distinction

is necessitated by technicalities pertaining to changing years. Castanon is staying at Turfway through Dec. 31, in part to try to win the holiday meet riding title. Heading into the Wednesday card, he held a 19-16 lead over Eddie Martin Jr., who is second the standings.

Some positive signs from Daly

Trainer Pat Daly is showing signs of emerging from a coma in the intensive-care unit of Norton Hospital in Louisville after undergoing surgery last weekend for a burst brain aneurysm. The prognosis for Daly, 43, is guarded, said family members.

Daly's mother, Mary, said her son has responded to voice commands by wiggling his fingers and toes and by opening his mouth. Daly's sister, Kathleen, said doctors are hopeful and somewhat optimistic that Daly could emerge from the coma in the near future. "We have a lot of faith that the miracle part is over, since he survived the initial trauma," said Mary Daly. "Pat has a long road ahead, but he has an incredible amount of support behind him, including his many friends at the racetrack."

Daly, a Louisville native who has been in racing for most of his adult life, is one of eight siblings in a close-knit family of racing fans. He has about 15 horses stabled at Louisville Trackside, where his wife, Lori, has been helping to care for the horses in recent days. Daly has sent out 16 winners this year, including three at the Turfway holiday meet.

Lori Daly has worked off and on at the racetrack for the last 20 years or so, including lengthy stints as an exercise rider for her husband, as well as Neil Howard and assistant trainer to Philip Thomas Jr. The Dalys adopted an infant son eight months ago, and Lori had spent most of her time at home caring for him until this recent setback.

* Without so much as an allowance on the 12-race Friday card at Turfway, the nominal feature is the 10th race, a $30,000 claimer that is restricted to horses that have never won three races. One saving grace for Friday, however, is that most of the races sport big fields. First post is 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

* In a change of schedule, Turfway has decided to race on Wednesday, Jan. 4, with a post time of 1:10 p.m. Turfway will resume evening racing the next day, Jan. 5, with a first post of 5:30.

* A pair of six-furlong, $50,000 stakes will help close out Turfway Park's holiday meet: the Gowell, for 2-year-old fillies, on Monday, and the Holiday Cheer, for 3-year-olds and upward, on Dec. 31.