01/28/2002 12:00AM

Facing kidney transplant, Romero is uninsured

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The news that former standout jockey Randy Romero needs a kidney transplant and does not have any health insurance already has at least one of his friends ready to take action.

Shane Sellers, who like Romero grew up in Louisiana's bayou country before going on to a sensational riding career, said he hopes to organize a benefit concert at Gulfstream Park in the coming weeks.

"You're talking about something that costs $150,000, maybe $200,000," noted Sellers, "and he has no way to make a living right now. I'm going to do everything I can to raise as much money as I can for him. Randy's given so much to this game, and now it's time to give back."

Sellers, who retired as a jockey last year because of a severe knee injury and has become a noted country singer, said he intends to contact Gulfstream officials to try to arrange the concert.

Because of an astounding litany of injuries and operations, Romero essentially was uninsurable. He underwent more than 20 operations during a riding career of some 25 years. He said the kidney problems have been persistent for the last eight years or so, and now he finally has to get a new one.

Romero, 45, said his Louisville endocrinologist, Dr. Don Duff, told him that he will have to undergo dialysis soon and that the transplant may take place in several months. Romero said Duff is optimistic that Edwin Romero, his older brother, will be a match and will be able to donate one of his kidneys.

Romero, who since retiring in 1999 has worked as a jockey's agent, said he only has about 8 percent use of both kidneys. He said his habits to make weight, such as using Lasix, intentionally vomiting after eating on a regular basis, and sweating profusely in steam rooms, probably are the root cause of his kidney problems, along with "some pretty strong drugs, antibiotics and all that" which were prescribed during and after his many surgeries.

Romero, whose family was the subject of the 1978 movie "Casey's Shadow," had a fabulous career as a jockey, winning 4,294 races. His mounts earned $75,264,198.

At various stages of his career, Romero rode regularly in Kentucky, New York, Florida, and elsewhere throughout the eastern half of the United States. He won six races on a card on three occasions, at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Fair Grounds. He was involved in some memorable races, winning the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff aboard unbeaten Personal Ensign and falling from the ill-fated Go for Wand in the 1990 Distaff.

Sellers, 35, said he long has idolized Romero. "I can't tell you how much Randy has been through," he said. "Randy has a lot of friends in the game, a lot of people he's helped out. I'd love to see people step up and help him now that he's really needing it himself."