01/14/2003 1:00AM

Davis faces surgeries before possible return

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The pain in Robbie Davis's left knee made it impossible for him to ride any longer. The responsibilities awaiting the 41-year-old jockey may make it impossible for him to stay away.

That is why Davis is preparing to undergo two separate operations in the next two months - one to repair the meniscus ligament and another to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. The surgeries could dictate whether Davis continues his career or is forced to hang up his tack.

"It's up in the air," Davis said Tuesday from his Long Island home. "It's very depressing."

If the surgeries and post-operative rehabilitation go well, Davis could return to riding in the fall.

But, there are no guarantees. Doctors - Davis has visited four specialists - have told him that without the operations, he could not ride again. None can guarantee that even with the operations Davis would be able to ride without pain.

"They said it was really hard for them to guarantee what type of pain I'd be in," Davis said.

Davis, who has not ridden since Sept. 15, said that doctors told him that even if he never rode again, he would eventually need a total knee replacement.

Complicating matters are the financial obligations facing Davis and his wife, Marguerite, down the road. The couple has six children, the oldest of whom will enter college next fall.

"I have some big years in front of me," Davis said.

On horseback, Davis has put some big years behind him. He has ridden 3,382 winners and counts a trio of $1 million stakes among his 280 black-type victories. Davis has won or shared nine New York Racing Association meet riding titles, the last being Aqueduct's 1998 spring meet.

Davis would like to ride again. But, if not, he would like to continue working in the sport.

"I would really like to try to find a way to come back," Davis said. "It's hard to step out of the game. I love horses completely; it's all I know. Any door or arena is open. I'd consider anything given the situation I'm in with my riding career."

When he isn't visiting a doctor or undergoing therapy, Davis is learning how to cook and looking after his six kids, the youngest being 9-year-old Dylan. One place Davis hasn't been the last four months is the track.

"It would really hurt me to come out there and not get on a horse," Davis said. "It's all I've known the last 25 years. Gradually, I've been able to start watching the races again."

Snake Mountain heads Aqueduct

One of the top horses that Davis lost when he stopped riding was Snake Mountain, who will start as the 120-pound highweight in Saturday's $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap. The Grade 3 Aqueduct is the last graded stakes race in New York for a month.

Davis rode Snake Mountain to four wins from seven rides last year. Jose Santos, who has ridden Snake Mountain to three consecutive wins - including the Queens County and Stuyvesant handicaps - will remain in Florida on Saturday to ride Funny Cide in the Holy Bull Stakes. Mike Luzzi has picked up the mount on Snake Mountain.

On Tuesday, Snake Mountain was timed for a half-mile in 49.64 seconds over Belmont's training track. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said it was more like an open gallop and that the 5-year-old horse went better than had he actually been scheduled for a workout.

"We had to trick him into running off," Jerkens said. "He probably went two seconds faster than if we meant to breeze him."

Jerkens will also be represented in the Aqueduct by Voodoo, who was timed in a half-mile move in 50.82 seconds at the end of an open gallop. Voodoo was assigned 115 pounds. Others expected to run include Ground Storm (117), Cat's at Home (114), My Man Ryan (111), and Mr. Determined (109).

John Little nears return

John Little, who defeated Evening Attire, Ground Storm, and Windsor Castle in winning last April's Grade 3 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap, worked four furlongs in 49.53 seconds on Tuesday at Aqueduct. Owner-trainer Deborah Bodner said John Little could return to the races as early as this weekend.

John Little has not raced since June 30 when he finished sixth in the Skip Away Handicap at Monmouth Park. It was the 18th race in a 14-month span for John Little, a New Jersey-bred son of Blushing John. Before his Excelsior victory, John Little had won 3 of 4 starts over Aqueduct's inner track.

"He needed a little break. He ran hard and he got sick so we gave him a little time off," Bodner said. "He seems to be okay. He might need one to tighten him up."

Cats Fury at a price?

If one can forgive Cats Fury's last race in the slop, then he could offer value in Thursday's featured entry-level allowance race for colts and geldings going six furlongs.

Cats Fury backed up to fifth after contesting a hot pace in the slop on Jan. 3. Previously, he finished a good second to Papua, who came back to win a second-level allowance on Dec. 28.

Celera, who has four Beyer Speed Figures of 80 or better in his last four starts, tops a Dominic Galluscio-trained entry. Tarakan returns from a two-month layoff for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who excels in such circumstances.

NYRA pleased with simulcasting

NYRA officials are pleased with the start of dark-day simulcasts at Aqueduct and expect handle to improve once Gulfstream Park begins racing on Mondays next month.

On Jan. 6, Aqueduct handled $113,000 in simulcast wagers on Tampa Bay and Fair Grounds. Last Monday, Aqueduct handled $116,000 with those two tracks plus Philadelphia Park. Next week, when Aqueduct races on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, dark-day simulcasting will be conducted on Wednesday and will include Gulfstream Park.

Gulfstream begins racing regularly on Mondays beginning Feb. 3.

"We're pleased," said NYRA vice president Bill Nader. "This puts us a little bit above break even. We'll see the numbers improve once Gulfstream comes in."

Aqueduct will continue to be open for simulcasts on Mondays through March 31.