11/12/2004 12:00AM

Despite burning bridges, Sellers has no regrets

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Shane Sellers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Shane Sellers, who has been at the forefront of the jockey-insurance controversy the past week at Churchill Downs, said Friday he was planning to leave town no later than this weekend "to get away from all this negative stuff" that has overwhelmed him and his family.

In a lengthy phone conversation, Sellers said he has been "sickened" by the situation that led to 14 jockeys being banned from riding at the Churchill fall meet and by other developments that he said "have ruined my name and ruined everything about me."

Sellers, 38, had actively ridden for most of the last 22 years until announcing Oct. 2 that he was retiring because adequate accident insurance was difficult for him to buy. He has been the most prominent figure in the standoff between track management and the jockeys who were banned after threatening to stage an unofficial boycott. Sellers was handcuffed and escorted off the Churchill property Sunday; he led a showdown with track security when he and nine banned jockeys walked onto Churchill property to retrieve their personal belongings Wednesday; and he spoke out, sometimes in harsh terms, all week.

Sellers said Friday his role in the controversy has been validated by the fact the National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced last week the formation of a panel to examine the insurance issue.

"The Jockeys' Guild has been asking about this for 25 years, and all of a sudden, in three days, the governor of Kentucky and the NTRA say they've formed a task force," he said. "So even the jockeys who didn't join us, they're going to get what we fought for.

"This wasn't my mission. My mission was accomplished a month and a half ago when I quit. This was the mission of all the jockeys, these guys who stood up for what they believe in. Their mission was accomplished."

By Friday, as Churchill entered its third day of racing without the banned jockeys, the controversy had dissipated, with both sides awaiting word from the NTRA about how its panel will proceed.

In the meantime, Sellers said he believes his career in racing is "finished" because he has alienated so many people. Still, "I wouldn't have done it any other way," he said. "People who know me know that I stand up for what I believe. Am I hot-headed? Yes, I am, but if I feel like I'm right, I don't care if it's the president, Wayne Lukas, whoever - there's no gray area with me. You like me or you don't, and if you don't, that's your opinion."

Besides the public displays, Sellers severed a longstanding and close friendship with former jockey Randy Romero, who chose to continue working as an agent for Kevin Krigger, a jockey who did not join the boycott. Sellers left two invective-laced phone messages this week for Romero, who turned the recordings over to Churchill security personnel.

"I'm very disappointed with the way Shane handled all this," said Romero.

If indeed his time in racing is over, Sellers left a proud legacy on the racetrack. He had 4,069 winners from 23,778 mounts, for purses earnings of $122.4 million, and won riding titles at numerous tracks, including Churchill, Keeneland, Gulfstream, and Arlington.

Sellers had ridden sporadically since December 2000, when he suffered a serious knee injury in a post-parade accident at Fair Grounds. He briefly undertook a country-music singing career while also espousing numerous different causes, many of them on behalf of jockeys.

He also has been involved in various charitable causes, including an annual golf tournament in Louisville that benefits children with Down syndrome. He said he informed officials with the tournament this week that he no longer wanted his name associated with the event "because of all the negative things that have gone on. I don't want them to have to suffer for it because of me. It's sad."

Colonial Colony possible for Clark

Colonial Colony, the Stephen Foster Handicap winner who has been turned over to trainer Dallas Stewart since last running in the Pacific Classic in August, is a possibility for the Nov. 26 Clark Handicap after breezing six furlongs here Friday in 1:15.80 over a muddy track.

Colonial Colony was trained by Walt Bindner until owner Chris Nolan turned him over to Stewart several weeks ago.

Other notables likely to run in the Grade 2, $500,000 Clark include Perfect Drift and Saint Liam.