04/13/2003 11:00PM

Cooksey stable following surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Jockey Patricia Cooksey was in stable condition Monday at the University of Kentucky Medical Center here after undergoing surgery there Saturday night to repair a broken left femur, the result of a nasty spill earlier Saturday in the first race at Keeneland.

Surgeons implanted a metal rod in the broken femur and also placed a cast on her right leg, where she suffered a lesser fracture to the tibia, just below the knee. She is expected to remain hospitalized until later this week.

"I think they did a good job," Cooksey said. "My right leg is kind of swollen, but everything is fine. My physical therapist is already here wanting to get me up out of bed and kick me out of here.

"I've known other jockeys who did come back from things like this. In fact, Chris McCarron called me from California. He told me he once had two broken legs and a broken arm at the same time, and he came back from that. Coming back is up to whether I want to or not. It's a little early yet for that decision. But I've come back pretty quick from things in the past. I've been so blessed."

The spill occurred going into the first turn of a 1 1/16-mile claiming race, when Cooksey's mount, Ide Rather Not, appeared to be attempting to lug out while racing near the rail. It appeared her horse's right front leg clipped a rear heel of Tricky Princess, causing Ide Rather Not to immediately fall.

"She hollered at me," said Lonnie Meche, who rode Tricky Princess. "I guess her horse was getting out on her. I tried to make room for her, but right where we go into that turn is where it happened."

Classikas, with jockey Inosencio Diego, and Savannah Crest, with Fabio Arguello Jr., both crashed into Ide Rather Not, dislodging their riders. Arguello received stitches for a deep gash in his forehead. Diego was not seriously injured, and none of the three riderless horses suffered life-threatening injuries.

After the spill, Classikas ran one lap around the track, eluded outriders, and, racing full-bore, headed straight for the prone Cooksey while medical personnel were attending to her. Fortunately, while everyone in the crowd was holding their collective breath, Classikas leaped over Cooksey.

Cooksey, 45, returned to riding last June after undergoing a mastectomy, a result of breast cancer, the previous September. Her courageous battle with cancer led to her being honored with awards from a wide variety of sports organizations. Cooksey is the second-winningest female jockey in North American racing history behind Hall of Fame rider Julie Krone.

Big day a boost for Keeneland

After some very nasty weather here Wednesday and Thursday, temperatures finally began to warm up and rains moved out of the Lexington area Friday. By Saturday, it was Chamber of Commerce weather, and racing fans responded accordingly.

Ontrack attendance Saturday was 27,624, fifth-highest in Blue Grass Stakes history. Ontrack handle was $2,452,129, which amounts to a per capita of less than $100, but all-sources handle was $12,777,809, narrowly surpassing what was bet on the corresponding date last year.

With eight of 15 programs having been run this spring, complete business figures were not available Monday, but officials conceded last weekend that the subpar weather had contributed to decreases in business during the opening half of the meet.

"We needed this kind of day," director of racing Rogers Beasley said.

The all-time Keeneland attendance mark of 29,687 was set three years ago on Blue Grass Day.

Bet to the bell once again

Keeneland, as well as Aqueduct, Saturday rescinded its policy of cutting off betting when the first horse is loaded into the starting gate for a race. Both tracks have reverted to the longstanding practice of allowing wagering to continue until the race has started, otherwise known as "betting to the bell."

"We felt comfortable with the way the technology is now to go back to the old way," Beasley said.

It would be impossible to accurately gauge how much handle was lost using the "first in" policy - which stops wagering once the first horse is loaded into the starting gate - during the first six days of the Keeneland meet. But considering the huge crowd here Saturday, it seems untold thousands of dollars would have been shut out before every race if the old policy had been employed. At many areas in the Keeneland plant, wagering lines typically were 15- or 20-deep throughout the day.

The "first in" policy was implemented in response to the Breeders' Cup Pick Six scandal last fall, and also to avoid the dramatic odds changes that occasionally occur during the running of a race. Racing fans long have said they are annoyed by, and suspicious of, the odds changes that result from late money being dumped into the pool.

Simulcasting overlap

Because of long betting lines Saturday, many people chose to use self-service betting machines. But bettors wanting to play the Big 3 Pick 3, the national wager that combined the three major Derby preps, had to go to a teller because the wager was not programmed into the self-service terminals as Aqueduct's 11th race.

The lack of coordination of simulcast signals also was highly disappointing to many fans. The Shakertown Stakes was run at precisely the same time as the Wood Memorial simulcast, while the 10th and last race at Keeneland overlapped with the Arkansas Derby simulcast.

Perfect Drift could try Grade 1

Perfect Drift ran so well winning his turf debut Friday that trainer Murray Johnson said he likely will run the 4-year-old gelding in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Kentucky Derby Day.

Perfect Drift, making his first start of the year, won an allowance race by three-quarters of length. Johnson said the effort probably was good enough to try Perfect Drift in a race as demanding as the Woodford Reserve.

"He's shown he's a top horse before," said Johnson.

Perfect Drift finished third in the Kentucky Derby last year.

Lady Tak works five furlongs

Lady Tak, the 3-year-old filly who lost for the first time when finishing second in the April 5 Ashland Stakes, Monday had her first workout since that race. Lady Tak went five furlongs in 1:01 at Churchill.

Lady Tak won five straight races before being beaten by front-running Elloluv in the Ashland. Both fillies are expected to return as major contenders in the May 2 Kentucky Oaks.

The Monday workout was "nice and easy," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "We'll work her two more times before the Oaks."

Hard to find Royal Spy a race

Royal Spy is all revved up with nowhere to go - at least not around here, anyway.

Trainer Tom Amoss said Monday at Churchill that he cannot find a suitable race at the upcoming Churchill meet for Royal Spy, the upset winner of the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland last week.

"I really don't want to go past a mile with him, so that doesn't leave us a lot of options here," Amoss said. "We'll find something somewhere, though."

Amoss said No Jacket Required, winner of the Shakertown on the Saturday undercard, likely will run back in the May 2 Aegon Turf Sprint.

- additional reporting by Glenye Cain and Jay Privman