03/13/2008 11:00PM

Dinner and auction set to benefit ailing Vitek


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A charity dinner and auction to assist jockey Justin Vitek in his battle with leukemia has been scheduled for April 21 at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs.

Retired jockey Jeff Johnston and his wife, Jolynn, are organizing the effort to help Vitek, who has been in Jewish Hospital in Louisville since Feb. 17 after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. After undergoing about a week of chemotherapy treatments, Vitek, 34, has recently undergone a series of blood and platelet transfusions. He is expected to remain in the hospital for at least two more weeks, according to Jolynn Johnston.

"He has his good days and his bad days," she said. "He's doing as well as can be expected."

Silent and live auctions will be held at the dinner. Johnston said she is in the process of collecting saleable items from various racetracks, breeding farms, and individuals, "but we could always use more." Proceeds will go directly to offsetting Vitek's mounting medical bills.

This is the second benefit planned to help Vitek. Turfway Park will donate some of the proceeds from its annual crawfish boil, which will be held Tuesday evening at the Florence, Ky., track.

Tickets to the Churchill charity dinner are $50. More information is available by e-mailing jolynnjohnston@yahoo.com. Donations can be made to the Justin Vitek Benefit Account, c/o PNC Bank, 9519 U.S. 42, Prospect, Ky., 40059.

Vitek, a Texas native whose riding career began in 1993, was most recently active at Turfway, with his last winner coming Feb. 2 aboard Timeless Fashion.

Romero out of hospital

Randy Romero, the ailing retired jockey, has been released from a Louisville hospital and recently flew to New Orleans to rejoin his wife, Cricket, a workers' compensation representative for the Louisiana division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Romero, 50, had a kidney removed in a Louisville hospital on Feb. 18. He has suffered for years from hepatitis C, and his remaining kidney barely functions, forcing him to undergo dialysis treatments several times a week.

Cricket Romero said her husband made rounds with her on a golf cart Thursday morning in the Fair Grounds stable area.

"He got here Monday," she said. "He's still really weak, but he's fighting. It's going to take him a while to get his strength back."

Cricket Romero said blood tests on Romero following his surgery "all came back good" and that she expects he will return to Kentucky, where the couple still has a home in Louisville, at some point during the upcoming Keeneland and Churchill Downs meets.

Romero is one of three jockeys named in Hall of Fame voting this year, marking the fifth time he has been nominated. He rode nearly 4,300 wins in a career that ended in 1999.

Lane's End filling up

With the signature race of the Turfway Park meet just a weekend away, the field for the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes is shaping up with a large field, according to Turfway's stakes coordinator, Randy Wehrman.

At this early date, at least seven 3-year-olds are likely, with more to come, for the Grade 2 Lane's End, which is set for next Saturday, March 22. Those known prospects are Cannonball, Halo Najib, Medjool, Monba, Racecar Rhapsody, Turf War, and Your Round.

The Lane's End is one of six stakes on the day. The other races are the Bourbonette, Rushaway, Fairway Fun, Queen, and Hansel.

Cauthen to be celebrated

In recognition of this year being the 30th anniversary of his Triple Crown sweep aboard Affirmed, retired Hall of Fame jockey Steve Cauthen is being honored Monday at Turfway.

Cauthen, who grew up and still lives less than 15 minutes from Turfway, will be available for autographs from 2 to 4 p.m. during the Monday program. A limited number of commemorative programs are being printed for the occasion.

Monday normally is a dark day at Turfway, but last month the track announced it would partly make up for several weather-related cancellations by running on two Mondays, the last being St. Patrick's Day. The Monday feature, the $50,000 St. Patrick's Day Handicap at six furlongs, drew a field of 10 older horses, led by the lone mare in the field, Lady Belsara.

* Jockey John McKee is closing in on the 1,000-win milestone. McKee, who has won riding titles at Churchill, Oaklawn Park, River Downs, and Turfway, had 991 career victories following the Thursday card at Turfway. McKee, 26, began his career in 2002.

* The Sunday feature at Turfway is a $24,600, entry-level allowance route for 3-year-olds. A pair of recent Fair Grounds returnees, Sinister and Two Cats, look like the leading contenders in a field of nine.

* Turfway is partly making up for races lost during the three-day weekend of March 7-9 by tacking on an extra race onto some programs through the end of the meet, April 3.

* Regular morning training hours at the Trackside training center in Louisville resumed Friday. Winter training is conducted in the afternoon.

* Garrett Gomez, the 2007 Eclipse Award winning jockey, plans to ride the bulk of the Keeneland spring meet from April 4-25, agent Ron Anderson said recently.

* Steve Krajcir will not return as clerk of scales at the Churchill spring meet and will instead remain working as agent for jockeys Larry Melancon and Joe Johnson.