10/26/2001 12:00AM

Coming soon: New, improved model


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Take a long, last look, or at least take a picture. The Churchill Downs that racing fans have come to know and love - and sometimes hate - will no longer exist in its current form after the fall meet ends Nov. 24.

A two-phase, $127 million facelift will get under way when the meet ends. When the massive project is completely finished in time for the 2005 Kentucky Derby, Churchill will have a dramatically different look, though one that retains certain traditions, such as the famed Twin Spires.

"This is the biggest change that Churchill Downs will undergo since 1895," when the Spires were built, said track spokesman John Asher.

Even die-hard traditionalists concede that Churchill is badly in need of a major overhaul. Many sections of the grandstand and clubhouse are badly outdated, and fans frequently complain about a crumbling infrastructure and an overall lack of amenities.

In that spirit, Churchill announced last month that its multiyear "Building on Tradition" project will try to rectify those many problems.

"Some of the preliminary work is actually already under way," said Asher. "In December, some major work will start on the grandstand side, and after the spring meet next year, the really serious renovations in phase one will get started."

Asher said Churchill officials have been "extremely careful in maintaining the history and tradition of the home of the Derby.

"Most of the reactions we've gotten have been very positive," he said. "This absolutely needs to be done. At the same time, we all like that sense of history when we walk in the doors here. So we are proceeding cautiously in our plans."

Although nostalgia probably will be invoked when the meet ends, the fact that "the place will never look quite the same again," as Asher said, clearly is for the better.

Chavez should stir things up

Although perennial champion Pat Day has to be considered a heavy favorite for yet another Churchill riding title, Jorge Chavez should make things interesting on a day-to-day basis.

Chavez, who begins riding here regularly Tuesday, is represented by Ronnie Ebanks, who for many years was the agent for Shane Sellers. Day often found Sellers to be his main rival for premier mounts and riding titles here and at Keeneland.

* Leelanau, the Carson City colt who set a 5 1/2-furlong track record here last spring, has been turned out for the rest of the year. Trainer Steve Morguelan had hoped to race Leelanau this fall but was not totally satisfied with how the colt has progressed since being sidelined in June with a minor injury.

* The Keeneland July Yearling Sales will be profiled on the first edition of "Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden" on the A&E cable network on Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

* Collectors, here's your chance: A Pat Day bobble-head doll will be given away to the first 10,000 paid admissions here Nov. 3.