05/12/2005 12:00AM

Day ready to resume race-riding


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It may happen as soon as Saturday. The return of Pat Day to the Churchill Downs riding colony is imminent, and when the veteran jockey does resurface, he will be competing on an everyday basis with some fresh faces.

Day, who has been sidelined since March 5 with an injured hip socket, is named on three horses Saturday, including Semaphore Man in the featured Matt Winn Stakes. However, Day said Thursday he wanted to make sure he would be able to perform at his best before he commits to fulfilling those obligations. "If not Saturday, then Sunday, or at least early next week," he said.

In any case, Day said he is eager for a chance to ride on a daily basis against fellow Hall of Fame members Mike Smith and Gary Stevens, both of whom are riding regularly at Churchill for the first time.

"We've always had a deep, competitive riding colony here," said Day. "But certainly with the addition of Mike and Gary, and Rafael [Bejarano] back in town, that changes the complexion considerably. I think it's not only indicative of the quality of racing here at Churchill, but also the quality of life to be had here in Louisville."

Day underwent surgery on his right hip in Colorado on March 30 and said he has "been working very hard" in rehabilitation, mostly performing aquatic exercises for up to two hours a day. Day began exercising horses Wednesday, when he got aboard one horse. He got on two Thursday.

"There was a little soreness, but that's to be expected," he said. "The conditioning and the muscle tone, that shouldn't take too long to get back. My air's fine. It will just be a matter of getting back to using the muscles, the thighs and the back and so forth, that we use for riding."

Day, 51, is the all-time leading jockey at Churchill in virtually every category. The hip surgery caused him to miss the Kentucky Derby for the first time since 1983, ending his record streak at 21 consecutive years. He and his wife, Sheila, watched the race from a third-floor box seat.

"We watched from a great vantage point," said Day, who won the 1992 Derby aboard Lil E. Tee. "It was decidedly different from years past, that's for sure. Different, but fun. We had a chance to schmooze with the patrons, sign some autographs, have some photo ops. It was great to see Mike [on winner Giacomo] come charging down the middle of the track and get the job done. I know what a great thrill that had to be for him."

Bejarano uninjured in spill

Jockey Rafael Bejarano escaped injury Thursday when he was thrown from his mount, Independent Cat, who was leading the field in the stretch of the third race at Churchill Downs.

Bejarano, the wins leader among North American jockeys last year, was treated and released at nearby Caritas Medical Center and was expected to resume riding Friday at Churchill, said his agent, Joe Ferrer.

Jockey Calvin Borel, who fell when his mount, Jet Angel, tripped over Independent Cat, also was unhurt. Borel did not miss any scheduled mounts Thursday.

Independent Cat, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Brereton Jones, was euthanized.

No excuse for Madcap Escapade

Madcap Escapade came out of the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Derby Day in good order, although her trainer, Frank Brothers, said he is still trying to shake off the disappointment of seeing the flashy filly finish fifth as the 2-5 favorite.

"She's fine," said Brothers, managing a weak smile, "but her trainer's not."

Brothers said he could find no plausible excuse in defeat for Madcap Escapade, who had won 6 of 7 starts. "She just didn't run that good," he said. "I don't have anything particular in mind for her next. We're just going to keep her in training, regroup a little bit, then figure out what we want to do."

* Five of the 38 winning tickets in Wednesday's pick six were sold at Churchill, where attendance was 7,781. Buoyed by a $471,588 carryover from Derby Day, each winning $2 ticket returned $38,414.

* The lone stakes here next weekend is the $100,000 Open Mind, a five-furlong turf race for 3-year-old fillies. The biggest day of the post-Derby segment of the spring meet, Stephen Foster Day, is on June 18.