10/23/2003 12:00AM

Castellano, Nelson injured in Belmont spill


ELMONT, N.Y. - Jockeys Javier Castellano and Diane Nelson were taken to nearby North Shore Hospital in Great Neck, N.Y., on Thursday after the fatal breakdown of favored Sonn d'Oro in the first race at Belmont Park caused a chain-reaction spill.

Despite the seriousness of the accident, Nelson and Castellano were both conscious when taken off the track in separate anbulances, according to NYRA officials. Nelson told medical personnel that her left ankle was hurt, while Castellano complained of hip and back pain.

Nelson, aboard Sonn d'Oro, toppled headfirst over her horse when the 3-year-old filly broke down just after taking the lead at the 5/16ths pole. Castellano was unseated when his horse, Pokerfaced, attempted to hurdle the tumbling body of Sonn d'Oro. Several horses behind Pokerfaced then bounded over the rolling Castellano.

Sonn d'Oro, a winner of four of her last five starts trained by Robert Klesaris, was destroyed on the track. Pokerfaced finished without a rider and was collared after the race with no apparent injury.

The spill caused nearly every jockey in the race to pull up their horses to avoid the fallen riders and horses. The race was won by Mariakel, the second choice, who passed Trick Again in deep stretch. Trick Again, with Jose Santos aboard, was battling with Sonn d'Oro for the lead when Sonn d'Oro broke down.

It was the second day in a row at Belmont that a jockey was injured in the first race. On Wednesday, Pedro Cotto was thrown in the first race after his horse clipped the trailing heels of the winner just past the finish line. Cotto was taken to the hospital with superficial injuries, but was riding on Thursday at Belmont.