06/30/2004 11:00PM

Day no longer dominates


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It has been 14 years since Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day last chose Arlington Park over Churchill Downs as his base of operations during spring and summer. Since then, Day has amassed a record of epic proportions at Churchill, adding 22 riding titles to bring his total to 34.

But that era of domination appears to be over, albeit mostly by Day's choice.

Day, who will turn 51 in October, was a distant second behind rising phenom Rafael Bejarano in the current Churchill standings prior to Thursday's racing. In fact, if the 23-win margin (72-49) by which Bejarano led Day going into the final five-day stretch at the meet holds true through Monday, closing day, it would be the largest losing margin for Day in a Churchill jockey race since the 1990 spring meet, when Day rode primarily at Arlington.

"Obviously we've been focusing on quality mounts over quantity the last several years," Day said Thursday between races at Churchill. "I also feel that the quality of racing may be a little down here this spring, and if you combine that with the fact that I just don't feel I can ride seven or eight races in a row anymore and give 100 percent, there may not be as many riding titles as in the past."

It should come as little surprise that Bejarano, 22, has gained such a sizable statistical edge over Day this spring; into Thursday, Bejarano had ridden in a meet-high 377 races, compared to just 186 for Day. As if to magnify this disparity, Day had just two scheduled mounts here Thursday and none Friday (when he was scheduled to ride three stakes races at Prairie Meadows), while Bejarano was named in 20 of 21 races.

Still, Day's presence is still noticeable in other categories, such as his meet-leading win percentage (.26) and in-money percentage (.58). Bejarano held the lead over Day in mount earnings ($2.71 million to $2.44 million), but if not for the $502,665 winner's share from Bejarano's stunning win last month on Colonial Colony in the Stephen Foster Handicap, that category would be much tighter.

Since the 1990 spring meet, after which he has ridden every Churchill meet on a regular basis, Day has lost just five of a possible 27 Churchill titles. Of those, his largest losing margin was by 15 to Calvin Borel at the 1999 fall meet.

Not that any of this really concerns Day. His powerful legacy at Churchill, and at many racetracks throughout the U.S., long ago became sealed, and of even greater importance to him, his outlook on life has never been more positive. Day and his wife, Sheila, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary Wednesday night, "and it was a very special evening for us and our family. Everything is extremely good in our lives right now, and we strongly believe there are many exciting things ahead of us."

Small fields for 2-year-old stakes

Prospective fields remain small for the two 2-year-old stakes to be run here the last two days of the meet. Likely starters for the $100,000 Debutante Stakes on Sunday are Classic Elegance, Im a Dixie Girl, Jules Best, Limitless Lady, Perfect Connection, Runway Model, and Sweet Miss El.

For the $150,000 Bashford Manor on Monday, the probable field is Copy My Notes, Lunarpal, Maximus C, Proper Carson, Raise Ole Glory, and Smoke Warning.

Lunarpal, as the winner of the Three Chimneys Juvenile and Kentucky Breeders' Cup, will bid to become just the second horse to sweep all three of the 2-year-old stakes run here in the spring. He would match the 1997 feat by Favorite Trick if he can stay unbeaten Monday for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Shane Sellers.

Paasch can't pass up Del Mar

Trainer Chris Paasch has custom-made a rather unusual circuit for himself. Paasch, who with his wife, Bonnie, moved from California to Kentucky nearly two years ago, now races year-round here, with one notable exception.

"We're still going back for Del Mar every year," said Paasch. "We'll send about a dozen horses there later this month."

Paasch, a native of upstate New York, said a major renovation of his Victory Haven Farm in Lexington, Ky., is virtually complete.

* Day was supposed to be honored here Saturday with a nesting doll, a sort of cousin to the bobblehead dolls that have become so popular in recent years, but production problems have forced Churchill to offer replacement vouchers for the dolls, which now will be given out Sept. 18-26 at Louisville Trackside.

* Bejarano escaped injury during the fourth race when his mount, Sweepatatapi, fell during the backstretch run after being crowded toward the rail by a rival horse. Bejarano was met with a smattering of applause when exiting the track ambulance. Sweepatatapi, one of five claims from the $10,000 claiming race, also was not injured.

* Brian Hernandez Jr., who into Thursday led all apprentice riders at the meet with 14 wins, will resume riding at Evangeline Downs after Churchill ends Monday. Hernandez, 18, hopes to return to the Kentucky circuit for the Keeneland fall meet in October.

* Tributes to the late trainer Danny Hutt and retired jockey Patti Cooksey will be held Saturday between the sixth and seventh races, respectively.