03/18/2005 12:00AM

Day faces hip surgery; Derby streak in jeopardy

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day said Friday that he is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right hip and that he is a "longshot" to keep intact his record streak of riding in the Kentucky Derby.

Day, who has ridden in the last 21 runnings of the Derby, said he could miss "anywhere from four to 12 weeks, depending on the rehab" after undergoing arthroscopic surgery March 30 at the Steadman-Hawkins sports medicine clinic in Vail, Colo.

Day, 51, spoke at a media conference at Churchill Downs, where he is by far the all-time leading rider. Day is the all-time leading rider in North America by earnings with more then $294 million and is the fourth-leading rider of all time by wins with 8,781 career victories.

Day said he has been bothered by a sore labrum, or hip cartilage, since July. He said he normally experiences "minimal" pain but that the hip joint "can get very uncomfortable when I'm in certain positions, and it seemed to be most when I was crouched over a horse's withers."

The type of surgery that Day will undergo is common among golfers because of the constant swiveling motion they make with their hips.

Day, who has ridden at Gulfstream Park every winter since 1996 but has had just 21 mounts this year, said he was "very relieved" that a magnetic resonance imaging test this week in Louisville revealed a small tear that can be repaired by surgery.

"It was good to find out exactly what it was, because it's fixable," he said.

Day said he and his doctors are expecting a full recovery and that retirement is not imminent.

"I'm in good shape physically, mentally, and spiritually," he said. "This is not a swan song, not a retirement party."

Day said he is "not going to be overly upset" if he has to miss the Derby. He currently has no major contender for the 131st Derby, which will be run May 7.

"Let's just say I won't lose any sleep if I don't make it back in time," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I have as much an appreciation for the Kentucky Derby as anyone. It's just that if I'm unable to make it back, then that's the way it will have to be."

Day has won the Derby once in 22 attempts, aboard Lil E. Tee in 1992. His first mount came in 1982, and after missing 1983, he has ridden in every Derby since 1984.

Eddie Arcaro and Bill Shoemaker have the second-most consecutive Derby mounts with 16 each.