01/02/2004 1:00AM

Foley has New Year's bash

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Because trainers are accustomed to waking in the early hours of the morning, they typically are not the type to stay up to midnight to ring in the New Year.

So trainer Greg Foley provided his own New Year's Eve fireworks Wednesday afternoon, winning three races at Turfway. The wins capped a banner year for Foley and vaulted him into a three-way tie with Bernie Flint and Dale Romans for leading trainer on the final day of Turfway's holiday meet.

The three-win day was not the first for Foley, he said, but the day was no less special.

"I had four in, and three were big favorites," he said. "I thought they were doing good, and they looked like they could win."

They did, easily. Religious won the second race by 8 1/2 lengths, Cozy One won the featured ninth by 7 1/4 lengths, and Sonny's Legacy won the last by 1 1/2 lengths.

Foley, who has a 30-horse stable based at Churchill Downs Trackside, finished the meet with 10 winners from 32 starters. Those numbers came despite his two best horses, Champali and Golden Marlin, being inactive. Both graded stakes winners, Champali and Golden Martin are being freshened over the winter months and will likely return to the track in mid-February in preparation for racing in the spring.

Before they head back to the track, Foley plans to swim them at a Lexington training center to build their fitness. "I think it gets them ahead of the game," he said.

In the coming months, Foley plans to develop his younger horses during Turfway's winter-spring meet, which began Thursday and runs through April 1.

Romans and Flint, meanwhile, also finished with productive holiday meets. Romans, running a division of his vast stable at Turfway, won 10 of 29 races; Flint won 10 of 53, including the Prairie Bayou Stakes in mid-December with Ask the Lord.

Bejarano back from Peru

Rafael Bejarano, who set a record by winning 46 races during the holiday meet, rode the first race at Turfway on Friday evening after spending the holidays in his native Peru.

In Bejarano's absence, jockey Jason Lumpkins seized opportunities, winning five races from nine mounts Wednesday, including all three of Foley's winners. Lumpkins finished the holiday meet in second place with 27 winners from 126 mounts.

Lumpkins went winless Thursday, opening day of the winter-spring meet. Ten other riders won a race apiece.

Maxxam Gold Cup for Sir Cherokee

Sir Cherokee, winner of the 2003 Arkansas Derby, is likely to run next in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park on Jan. 17, trainer Mike Tomlinson said.

Sir Cherokee, unraced since winning an allowance at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving day, breezed six furlongs in 1:16 over a muddy track Tuesday at Churchill Downs Trackside. If weather permits, Sir Cherokee is scheduled to breeze Monday, before he ships Tuesday to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Tomlinson said he likes the spacing of the Jan. 17 Maxxam Gold Cup relative to the Feb. 29 New Orleans Handicap and April 3 Oaklawn Handicap, two races he has targeted for Sir Cherokee.

Tomlinson said he will have 16 horses stabled at Oaklawn this winter but will maintain a stable of about half-dozen at Turfway over the winter months.

River Flower a favorite in ninth

Sunday's lone allowance at Turfway is a three-other-than sprint at six furlongs for older fillies and mares, carded as the ninth of 10 races.

River Flower and High Humidity, former claimers who became stakes placed in 2003 at Mountaineer Park, should vie for favoritism.

River Flower, runner-up in the Summer Finale Stakes at Mountaineer, finished second in a money allowance in her most recent start, which came during the fall meet at Turfway on Sept. 25. Last summer, River Flower won a pair of claiming races in turf routes at Arlington Park. Trainer Scott Sowle has given the mount to his regular rider, Mary Doser.

High Humidity is more established than River Flower as a main track sprinter. A five-time winner in 2003, High Humidity finished fourth in her last start Dec. 26, when racing against Senorita Ziggy and Ballado's Halo in a similar allowance race. Although she lost by less than four lengths, High Humidity earned only a 67 Beyer Speed Figure. Bejarano rides for Flint.