06/18/2007 12:00AM

Emotional comeback for Lopez


STOCKTON, Calif. - Jockeys are tough guys. But jockeys are also human.

So on Friday, after winning his first race since returning from a self-imposed 10-month break from riding, Adalberto Lopez sought a place of solitude for a few moments.

"I'm going to be honest," the 38-year-old Lopez said. "I went in the hot box and cried. I went through so much trouble, so many hard times. After the race, I had so much to think about."

Lopez's win, the 2,329th of his career, came aboard Cunning Plan in a $6,250 claimer at the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton. It was the fourth mount of Lopez's comeback from a break to deal with weight and alcohol problems.

Lopez said he began to gain weight last year. At first, he said, he kept winning, but soon the better mounts went to others. He wound up on bad horses, and that led to drinking and more weight problems and problems with his family.

"It was no fun any more," he said. "I'd finish third or fourth on a horse and knew we would have won except for my weight.

"It got to the point when I came out to meet the trainer, I was already planning what to tell him about why we didn't win."

Lopez stayed away from the track for several months, but he knew something had to be done.

He went to work for trainer Jeff Bonde at Pleasanton, even living in a tack room, and avoided alcohol. The hard work helped him take off some weight, and the urge to ride again began bubbling inside him.

In February, his brother, trainer Tony Diaz, asked if he were going to try to ride again and invited him to work horses for him.

"Because my weight was good, I thought it was the best time to try," Lopez said. "I wanted to do it for myself. But I wanted to do it the right way and not come back too soon."

Lopez worked at getting in shape for four months before accepting mounts the closing weekend at Golden Gate, June 9 and 10. He finished third aboard the maiden Punch Maryland in his first race back.

"After I rode that first horse, I was really tired," he said. "I was getting on 14 horses a day in the morning and got to where I was jogging three miles each afternoon. I was so tired, I'd sleep like a baby. But it's not the same as in a race."

The win at Stockton was particularly special for Lopez, because trainer Bob Hess Jr. was there from Southern California to saddle the mount. Lopez said he rode Hess's first stakes winner.

"It was the last race, a cheap race, and I never expected to see him there when I came out of the jockeys' room," Lopez said.

"It didn't make me nervous to see him there. He even thanked me in the paddock for riding for him and told me the horse could run a little bit. And everything came out the right way."

Handle jumps

Last year Stockton handled $3,309,579 for its first five days, when the meet overlapped with Bay Meadows. This year's opening week, with only four days but no overlap with another Northern California track, saw an all-sources handle of $10,882,162, according to track figures. That's a 229 percent increase over last year and an average of $2.7 million a day.

Ontrack wagering Sunday, when an estimated 7,500 fans attended the races, was $314,000, compared with $175,000 last year, according to the San Joaquin Fair's general manager, Forrest White.

"I said we might be up 80 percent for the meet, and some people thought I would be wrong," White said. "I think we have a good chance to end up averaging $3 million a day because we close with a large weekend."

The meet closes on Sunday.

Stakes entries abound

The Sweepida for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday drew 15 nominations, and the Forrest White for 3-year-olds on Sunday drew 19. Each race is a sprint with a purse of $45,000.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer nominated the stakes winner Glorification for the 5 1/2-furlong Sweepida. Three fillies from Southern California were nominated - Double Major, Cosmopolitan Lady and Prenuptial.

"Last year, I sat in my office for hours calling trainers about the Sweepida," racing secretary Bob Moreno said. "This year, trainers are calling me."

Hollendorfer nominated the stakes winner Double Action and Another Kris to the Forrest White. The stakes winners Super Image and Corredor del Oro were also nominated.

Racing board eyes Sherman

The California Horse Racing Board has filed a complaint against trainer Art Sherman after a horse he trains tested above the threshold for total carbon dioxide.

The horse in question, Hatif, finished second for Sherman in the 10th race at Golden Gate Fields June 10. A hearing has yet to be scheduled. Sherman has a previous carbon dioxide complaint pending.