11/14/2005 1:00AM

Chris Herrell dead at 31


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jockey James "Chris" Herrell, 31, died suddenly at his Louisville apartment after eating lunch Sunday afternoon. The cause of death was not immediately known, although his fiancee, Christin Landrum, said she strongly believed Herrell may have died from the effects of reducing his weight to ride races.

Herrell, who rode primarily in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, won 355 races from 3,624 mounts. He began his career in 1991 at age 16 and rode through 1994; from 1999 to 2001; and from 2003 to the present. Only recently had he returned to action after breaking his collarbone in an Aug. 21 spill at River Downs. His record at the current Churchill Downs fall meet was no wins from five mounts.

The gaps in his career were partly attributable to his struggles to make weight. Herrell stood about 5 feet 7, and his natural weight was considerably more than the 110 or so pounds at which he regularly rode.

Herrell's aunt, Carol Hays, said in a River Downs press release that a preliminary report from the Jefferson County coroner's office revealed that neither drugs nor alcohol were the cause of death. An autopsy report will not be available for several weeks.

Landrum, an apprentice rider who began her career this year, began dating Herrell more than five years ago. She was with Herrell when he collapsed Sunday, never to regain consciousness. Landrum told the Louisville Courier-Journal that Herrell's death most likely was "directly connected to 'pulling' weight every day, heaving and throwing up and everything that goes with being a tall jockey."

She said Herrell sometimes threw up as many as 15 times a day.

Bulimia and other major health problems long have been associated with jockeys' struggles to make weight. The Jockeys' Guild and other riders' organizations have been particularly vocal in recent years about public awareness of the struggles riders face and about the possible solutions.

The viewing for Herrell was scheduled for Tuesday at Schoppenhorst, Underwood and Brooks in Shepherdsville, Ky. A funeral is set for Wednesday afternoon at Springdale Presbyterian in Louisville. Memorial contributions can be made to the Don MacBeth Memorial Fund.