05/13/2004 11:00PM

The day Stewart Elliott broke through


During a recent lunch break, Dennis Elliott reminisced about his son Stewart's early days as a fledgling jockey. Stewart Elliott, of course, won the Kentucky Derby on Smarty Jones.

"It was 23 years ago, and the family had just returned to the States from a five-year tour in Hong Kong," Elliott said. "I wanted Stewie to finish school and get a diploma, as he was only 15 at the time, but he had other things on his mind, like horses and becoming a jockey."

Dennis Elliott was assembling a public stable on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania circuit and was finding it tough to get started. Stewart was his exercise boy and was very good at it, according to his father.

"I used to ride Nick Shuk," Elliott said. "Nick took Stewie under his wing and gave him riding tips." Another who helped Stewart, says his father, was Rick Wilson.

Elliott claimed a filly named Jack's Ruby for a client who wanted to race and later breed her. She did not have much racing talent to offer, recalled Elliott. Shuk rode her and told Elliott, who respected Shuk's savvy, that sprinting was not her game. Elliott immediately changed her training routine to put a better bottom into her.

"Was all set, the filly was training great, had the race picked out, and Nick was ready to ride," Elliott said. "The day before the race, Nick came by and told me he had to go to a clinic; his throat cancer was giving him fits. What the hell was I going to do? I mean, Nick knew the filly, and I did not want to ride another jockey who didn't. So, I looked at Stewie. He had ridden, I think, about five times on some slow horses. I said to him, 'Son, you're going to ride Jack's Ruby, and you better listen carefully.'

"I told him not to use the stick. If they come to you at the head of the stretch, urge the filly with your hands. No stick! Stewie was a good student. When Nick or Rick went to the films to watch races, Stewie went along with them and he learned. He'd go to the starting gate to watch horses break and how jockeys handled them coming out of the gate."

According to Elliott's recollection, Jack's Ruby, with bug boy Stewart Elliott in the irons, broke on top and stayed comfortably in front until the top of the stretch. A less patient apprentice might have instinctively gone to the whip, but not Stewart Elliott. Remembering his father's instructions, Stewart hunched over the filly and, using only his hands to prompt her, they made it to the wire on top.

Apprentice jockey Elliott soon made his mark on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania circuit and became a leading apprentice rider. A year later, after he lost his bug, lean times set in. He was only 17.

Dennis Elliott had contacts in New England and said he thought his son could turn things around if he moved his tack there. Stewart hooked up with Vinnie Blengs and other top area horsemen and soon became the leading jockey on that circuit.

"Oh, yes," said Elliott, "I forgot to tell you, Jack's Ruby paid 53-1. Look it up!"

Meadowbrook sale falls through

The contract to sell Barbara LaCroix's Meadowbrook Farm to Daniel and Diana Case's Hyperion Training Center LLC has been terminated, according to the Meadowbrook Farm attorney Bryce Ackerman. No reason for the termination were given.

The announcement of the pending sale of the 660-acre site was made early in April. The LaCroix family - Barbara, son David and his family - said it was not getting out of the Thoroughbred business if the sale went through, but would continue on a smaller scale.