06/25/2002 11:00PM

Cooksey second in return to the saddle

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jockey Patti Cooksey, riding for the first time since undergoing a mastectomy last September, finished second aboard Gold Empress in the fourth race Wednesday.

Cooksey, 44, trails only Julie Krone among female riders in North American racing history, with 2,120 victories.

"I'm a little tired, but I got a good blow," Cooksey said after the race.

Gold Empress was the only mount on the card for Cooksey, who said she does not know when she will retire, "but when I do, I want it to be on my own terms," she said.

She added she probably will ride sparingly the rest of the summer before trying to pick up momentum at the Turfway Park meet, which begins Sept. 4.

Gold Empress, a 4-year-old filly trained by Steve Flint, led most of the way before being overtaken by Winner Within, who drew off easily to win the maiden claiming race as the 7-5 favorite.

Romans aims for the top

Dale Romans readily admits that he wants to be the leading trainer at Churchill Downs for the third straight spring.

This time, however, he would like to do it by himself.

"I'd like to do it again, but I'm not going to do anything silly to get it done," said Romans, who tied for leading trainer in 2000 with D. Wayne Lukas and last year with Bernie Flint.

As the 52-day Churchill meet headed into its final 10-day stretch Wednesday, Romans held a tenuous 20-18 lead over his closest pursuer, Tom Amoss.

"I've got horses to run every day from here on out," said Romans.

One of them is K.C.'s Gift, who made her 2002 debut earlier this month in a $50,000 claiming race. K.C.'s Gift is one of 10 filly-mare turfers entered Friday in the featured ninth race, a $50,400 allowance at one mile.

"We gave her the winter off with the intention of running her a couple of times here," said Romans. "We just wanted to have her ready for Saratoga," he added, explaining that the filly's owner, Bob Baron, is from upstate New York.

K.C.'s Gift is one of a handful of logical contenders in the feature, along with Giving Noreen, Baldwina, and Alida.

Three other allowances and the third leg of the Cutter Championships for starter-allowance horses also are carded for Friday, when first post is 3:10 p.m.

Bobblehead mania strikes

Now you know that bobblehead mania officially has reached every corner of the country: Jon Court bobblehead dolls will be given away July 27 at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky.

Court, 41, has become an Ellis icon. Last summer, he won his fourth straight riding title, the first time that has ever been done in the track's 80-year history.

The Court bobblehead follows that of other well-known jockeys, including Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay Jr., and Pat Day.

Old pros reunite for Aristides

Calvin Borel, who going into the Wednesday card trailed only perennial leading rider Pat Day atop the jockey standings, has gotten the mount back on Bet on Sunshine for the Aristides Breeders' Cup Handicap. Day was aboard Bet on Sunshine last month when the 10-year-old gelding finished fourth in his 2002 debut.

Borel rode Bet on Sunshine to victory in last year's running of the $100,000 Aristides, a Grade 3 race that will be run for the 14th time here Saturday. Before Wednesday, Borel had won 42 races at the meet and Day 63. Jon Court (39) and Mark Guidry (37) were next in the standings.

Bet on Sunshine, a winner of 22 races, has been named the 121-pound highweight in the 6 1/2-furlong Aristides. A field of five or six older horses is expected.

* Add Greta Kuntzweiler to the list of Kentucky jockeys hoping to return from injury soon. Kuntzweiler, who fractured a vertebra last month in a training accident, began getting aboard horses again Wednesday. She hopes to be ready for the Ellis meet, which starts July 10.

* The golf tournament held Monday to benefit the Randy Romero Transplant Fund raised $2,600, said John Dickson, whose company, Brook Ledge van lines, sponsored the outing at Nevel Meade.