06/19/2003 11:00PM

Day not playing numbers game


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two weeks from closing day, July 6, time is running out on Pat Day for what would be his eighth straight riding title at a Churchill Downs spring meet.

Not that he seems too worried about it.

Through the Thursday card, Day had 35 winners, six fewer than Cornelio Velasquez, who has led the standings for most of the 52-day meet while riding regularly here for the first time. Velasquez had accepted 257 mounts to only 158 for Day.

"It'd be nice to be the leading rider again, but that's not our focus," said Day, a Hall of Famer who will turn 50 in October. "Overall, I don't believe the quality of this meet is what it has been in the past. If I'm riding seven, eight, nine a day, then we'd be out there on some of the cheaper stock that's been running here, and that's not what we're looking for. We're focusing more on quality and not quantity."

Regardless of whether he finishes as leading rider, Day said he is "very happy" with how the meet has gone, and with good reason - his mounts have earned a meet-high total of nearly $1.9 million. He said he teases his agent, Larry G. "Doc" Danner, about having become so picky about which horses he will and won't ride. "I tell Doc, seven mounts a day is too many, and six is not enough," he said with a sly smile.

Overall, Day has won or tied for an astounding 33 meet titles at Churchill, including 11 of the last 12 in the spring. The last time a jockey other than Day won the spring title was in 1995, when Shane Sellers took it.

Until Day guided Perfect Drift to victory last Saturday in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, some people had been saying that Day had not been his usual dominant self since being thrown from mounts during races at Keeneland on April 23 and at Churchill on April 27. He scoffs at the notion that he has somehow been affected by those incidents, saying he "feels fine." The soreness in his back, which he said he injured by lifting a heavy object at his home on April 28, also is no longer a factor in his day-to-day performance.

After the meet ends, Day will ride sparingly until the Saratoga meet begins July 23.

Sellers CD set for release

Meanwhile, Sellers not only is having a solid meet on the racetrack, having won 26 races and over $1 million in purses, but his second career as a country-music singer also will hit a major milestone soon.

The release of "Matthew, Mark, Luke and Earnhardt," an 11-track compact disc that Sellers recorded last year, is scheduled for release July 8. The biggest hit so far has been the title track, but two other songs also could prove popular with country music fans: "Back to Riding Rainbows," a 1995 remake that relates the ups and downs that Sellers has experienced in his riding career, and "God's Favorite Angel," a mournful but catchy tune about the untimely death of a young girl.

Sellers was scheduled to perform some of his songs Saturday at Thistledown after riding Wild and Wicked in the Ohio Derby. His first appearances following the release of the CD are set for July 11 at Evangeline Downs and July 12 in his hometown of Erath, La.

Bradley paying boxcars

On the few occasions that trainer William "Buff" Bradley has sent out a winner at this meet, his backers have been rewarded quite handsomely.

From his first 28 starters, Bradley had won just three times - but all three returned big mutuels. King of Speed returned $29.60 on May 10, and then came two Bradley bombers: Full of Luck, $75.80 on May 15, and King of Speed again Thursday in the seventh race, this time at $85.20.

The second upset by King of Speed triggered some huge payoffs Thursday. The 4-year-old gelding led a pick four that returned a whopping $44,677.90 for the only $1 ticket sold, and he topped an 8-5-1-all superfecta that paid $18,193.60 for $1.

Bejarano heating up

One of the hottest jockeys at Churchill in recent weeks is Rafael Bejarano, who will turn 21 Monday. Bejarano began the meet a woeful 2 for 80, but through Thursday, he had won with 12 of his last 87 mounts, including a number of high-priced winners, most recently Jenny's Prospector ($40.40) in the eighth race Thursday.

Bejarano, who attended the same riding school in his native Peru as New York riding star Edgar Prado, began riding full-time in Kentucky last winter at Turfway Park, where he finished second in the standings behind Jason Lumpkins. His agent, Steve Elzey, said he believes Bejarano has been hindered by a language barrier but that his command of English has improved substantially.

Butler playing it safe

Veteran jockey Dean Butler, who suffered a deep shoulder bruise in a June 9 training accident, said he expects to be back in action by the final week of the meet. Butler was on the Churchill backstretch with friends Thursday.

"I'm in no big hurry to get back," said Butler, who will ride at the Ellis Park meet which starts July 9. "I'm going to make sure I'm completely healed before doing anything dumb."

Good minding Baffert string

While trainer Bob Baffert gears up for the Del Mar meet with most of his best horses, assistant John Good will remain at Churchill through the summer and fall with a string of Baffert runners.

"We're going to keep the same 15 to 20 stalls we've been using," said Good. "We'll run some at Ellis and get some ready for the fall."

The best horse in the local Baffert string is Senor Swinger, whose next two starts will come in the July 12 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs and the Aug. 16 Secretariat at Arlington.

Jadada retired to stud in Chile

Jadada, an 8-year-old horse whose greatest career win came in the Grade 3 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland in October 2000, has been retired and will stand at stud in Chile, said trainer Mitch Shirota. Jadada, owned by Sterling Stud, finished fifth in his final start here May 17 and ended his career with $449,088 in earnings.

Shirota said he is hoping for an invitation to the $750,000 American Oaks for his latest stable star, Achnasheen, who finished a fast-closing third in the Regret Stakes here last Saturday. The July 5 American Oaks, a 1 1/4-mile grass race, is restricted to 3-year-old fillies.

Allowance route goes as feature

Stakes-seasoned turf veterans Roxinho and Red Mountain are the likely favorites in the Sunday feature, a classified allowance carded as the eighth of 10 races.

The rest of the field for the $69,000, 1 1/16-mile race is Gretchen's Star, Noble Ruler, Bail Out the King, and Drewman. Slider, who was entered in the Aristides Handicap here Saturday, also was entered with a main- track-only designation.

* With full-card simulcasting from Woodbine on the schedule for Sunday, fans at Churchill and throughout most of its simulcast network will be able to watch and wager on the Canadian track's biggest race of the year, the Queen's Plate.

* Stall applications for the fall meet at Turfway Park are now being accepted, said racing secretary Rick Leigh. The meet runs Sept. 3 to Oct. 2, with applications due July 19.