03/22/2003 1:00AM

Castanon closes in on Judice


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Jesus Castanon just won't go away. When Joe Judice spurted to the front in the jockeys' race not long ago it looked like the battle for leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs was all but over. But someone forgot to tell Castanon.

Castanon won three races last Friday to move within five victories of Judice. Overnight rains on Thursday forced Friday's turf races to be moved to a drying out main track, which started out sloppy and then went to good after being sealed. The surface, which was a bit more tiring than usual, distinctly favored stalkers and late closers. The conditions played right into the hands of Castanon, whose strongest suits are his ability to allow his mounts to settle, and then pick just the right time to move to the leaders.

He employed stalk-and-pounce tactics with all three of his Friday winners - Tailgator ($7) in the third, Rainy Parade ($18.20) in the fourth, and Codys Lucky Appeal ($8.80) in the ninth.

With 23 days left in the the meeting coming into Saturday's program, Castanon trails Judice, 87-82, and the riding title is still up for grabs.

Impressive maiden winner

It's not often that a horse comes from ninth place to win a sprint here, and it's even more unusual for a first-time starter to accomplish the feat. But that's just what Amy's Jet did Thursday.

After breaking a bit sluggishly, Amy's Jet, a Phone Trick colt from the Our Native mare Filadiz, went to work. He passed horses steadily and covered six furlongs in a good time of 1:11.80. Francine Villenueve was aboard Amy's Jet, who is trained by John B. Adams.

Chaplain moving to Churchill

For the past 13 years Ken Boehm has done an excellent job as the track chaplain here. His fine work did not go unnoticed and recently Boehm reached an agreement with officials at Churchill Downs to move to Louisville, Ky., and serve as track chaplain there.

For those who live or work on the racetrack backstretch, a voice of comfort and reason, and a steady, guiding hand is invaluable. Boehm has played that role here and helped many deal with their problems. He will be sorely missed.