08/22/2001 12:00AM

DRF's around the ovals

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Abandoned colt lands in winner's circle

Scheme, who at age 5 won his career debut in a $7,500 maiden claiming race at River Downs on Aug. 19, is not expected to achieve superstardom, but he has already come far.

Two years ago, maintenance workers at Turfway Park discovered an abandoned 3-year-old named Scheme during a routine stall check at the end of the meet. The colt's owner and trainer, Sally Botkin, had left him at Turfway, where stewards tried, but had a hard time, locating Botkin. In the meantime, Scheme was placed under the care of trainer Jerry Antounk. Botkin finally was found and summoned for a hearing, but she didn't turn up and was fined.

Turfway Park became the owners of Scheme through a court ruling one year after his discovery. But Botkin had the colt's Jockey Club registration papers, and without them, Scheme, a son of Chief Honcho, was unable to race. With the help of the Jockey Club, his papers and records were reconstructed, and Turfway was able to auction the horse off last December with the assurance that he would be able to race for his future owners.

Trainer Ron Hale was awarded the colt for $1,200 after the sealed-bid auction. Hale, who trains Scheme for owner Charles Giles, found him tough to handle, throwing him several times. But Hale was able to get Scheme ready to win his debut wire to wire.

Scheme paid $12.40, a price many of the colt's supporters in the Turfway front office were happy to cash on. "This is one of those stories that truly has a happy ending," said Greg Schmitz, Turfway's director of operations, who along with his staff oversaw the care of the horse while it was owned by Turfway.

- Vance Hanson

Canterbury

SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Apprentice Martin "Jose" Escobar scored his first career victory in Sunday's fourth race on D K Dickens with a clever rail-skimming trip.

A 27-year-old native of Mexico, Escobar is no stranger to Canterbury. He began his career 11 years ago as a hotwalker for trainer Bernell Rhone and worked as a groom and shed foreman before becoming one of the stable's regular exercise riders. Escobar and Rhone's son, Scott, are a familiar sight as they take sets of horses in tandem to the track under the black and red saddlecloths of the Rhone barn.

The elder Rhone was instrumental in helping Escobar learn the basics of horsemanship and those qualities have been in evidence since the jockey accepted his first mount. While he is not yet a seasoned race-rider, he is not your typical green bug boy, either.

- David M. Miller

Columbus Races

COLUMBUS, Neb. - The compact jockey colony has taken several hits over the last few weekends. Dennis Collins and Dan Beck will likely sit out the remainder of this meet, which runs through Sept. 16, because of injuries sustained and reaggravated in the past week.

Jerry Jewell injured his ribs in Saturday evening's second race when his mount, Eaton Canyon, broke down in midpack going into the final turn of the 6 1/2-furlong maiden race. Jewell took off the remainder of his mounts that night but returned to ride on Sunday.

Jiri Peterka was involved in a starting gate mishap in Sunday's final race when Yikes reared and pinched the rider against the back of the gate. He was taken to the hospital but released that evening and was back galloping horses Wednesday morning.

* Tauke collected his sixth win of the year when he scored by a neck in the Van Berg Derby on Sunday. His wins have come over five different racetracks. Tauke, owned by Marv Johnson and Charles Salem, started out the year at Fonner Park, where he won an allowance race in March. He returned to run second in the Fonner Park Special Stakes and then was third in the Nebraska Derby. He closed out the meet with a romping 17-length win in the one-mile Stevens Stakes.

Tauke then journeyed to Canterbury Park, where he won a nonwinners-of-four allowance over the turf course and was fourth in the St. Paul Stakes. Returning to Nebraska, Tauke has now reeled off wins in the Nebraska Breeders' Day Sophomore Stakes at Lincoln and the Horsemen's Park Breeders' Derby in Omaha and Sunday's win at Columbus.

The track will shift post time for its Sept. 8 card to 1:30 p.m. Central to accommodate the nationally televised Nebraska-Notre Dame football game that evening.

- Bill Hodtwalker

Great Lakes Downs

MUSKEGON, Mich. - The wins keep coming for jockey Terry Houghton. The top rider at this western Michigan oval swept all three of last week's stakes and pushed his total wins at the meet to 154, more than twice as much as his nearest competitor. Houghton is winning at a 26 percent clip, with nearly 60 percent of his mounts finishing in the money.

On Friday evening, Houghton was aboard Born to Dance ($2.20), a Kentucky invader who was a handy winner for trainer James Jackson in the Temptress Stakes.

Midway Girl, a local favorite and the second choice in the race, stumbled and fell past the wire. There was an audible sigh of relief from the sizable crowd when the filly scampered to her feet after several minutes.

Houghton won Saturday's Moonbeam Handicap on Flyinghannah ($3) in a close photo over True Ruby. Flyinghannah, the Michigan 3-year-old filly champion last season who is owned by Hugo Leonardi, held on to give trainer Gerry Bennett the first of his two stakes wins for the week.

Monday evening Bennett saddled Spring Winds ($2.80) to an easy win in the Little Ones Stakes. The Wekiva Springs colt, with new rider Houghton, won by 8 1/2 lengths.

- C. A. Shoemaker

Prairie Meadows

ALTOONA, Iowa - Prairie Meadows racing secretary Jay Johnson is at home dealing with Midwestern horseman and racing officials but soon his home will be halfway around the world. Johnson has accepted a position with the Emirates Racing Association and will move to Dubai at the beginning of October.

Kevin Greely who serves as the racing secretary for the Emirates Racing Association hired Johnson in mid-July to work at Dubai's five tracks, which race 59 days, from the end of October through the beginning of April. Johnson expects to assist Greely in coordinating the stakes races on the Dubai World Cup card held at Nad Al Sheba racecourse in mid-March as well as serve in various other capacities as a racing official during his six-month stay in Dubai.

A 31-year-old native of Omaha, Neb., Johnson has worked at tracks throughout the Midwest as both a racing official and an Equibase chart caller over the past decade but he admits the move to Dubai will be a new experience.

"I'm excited about the job but I know there will be some culture shock. The opportunity to work around some of the world's best horses was too good to pass up," said Johnson.

Johnson plans to return to the United States next April and could resume working at Prairie Meadows, which would create one of racing's all-time strangest circuits.

- Dave Basler