11/12/2001 1:00AM

Dr. Kashnikow wins for Doc Fisher

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - John R.S. "Doc" Fisher certainly knows his way around a racehorse, having been a veterinarian and trainer for more than 30 years.

But until Sunday, the Fair Hill, Md.-based Fisher had never run a horse at Churchill Downs. So in the frantic seconds after the Dr. Kashnikow, trained by Fisher, won the $177,300 River City Handicap, Fisher suddenly realized he had no idea where to go.

"How do you get to the winner's circle?" he asked.

The route was easy, just as it was for Dr. Kashnikow. A gray 4-year-old gelding making only his second start for Fisher, Dr. Kashnikow blazed his own path down the center of the Churchill turf course, rallying from last to win the Grade 3 race by 1 1/2 lengths over Tijiyr, the odds-on favorite in a field of eight older horses.

Dr. Kashnikow paid $9.60 as third choice. he ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.90 over a firm course.

Robby Albarado was aboard Dr. Kashnikow, who was privately purchased by Eugene Dixon's Erdenheim Farm three starts ago. The gelding previously was trained by John Kimmel. Under Kimmel Dr. Kashnikow scored his most notable victory - in the Fourstardave at Saratoga in August. Dr. Kashnikow now has won six of 10 starts and more than $335,000.

"I thought if I gave him a clean trip and a chance to settle early, he'd have some finish," said Albarado.

Tijiyr, ridden by Pat Day, was making his first start since June 9, when he finished third in the Manhattan Handicap. "I thought he ran terrific, considering everything," said trainer Niall O'Callaghan.

On yet another terrific weather day, and before a crowd of 12,816, habitual front-runner Strategic Mission, the 7-2 second choice, went right to the front, with Minor Wisdom and Make No Mistake in closest pursuit through fractions of 23.70 seconds, 47.92, and 1:11.87. Tijiyr was always poised to strike while racing in mid-pack.

"He settled nicely, and I was tracking them in good shape," Day said. "We were obviously just second best today."

Fisher normally is based year-round at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, but Dr.Kashnikow may make him go to Florida this winter. "We'll either take him to Florida or stay home," he said.