04/16/2003 12:00AM

Gabriel gets first win in 12 years


Jockey Ronnie Gabriel, aboard 19-1 Family Covenant, rode his first winner in over 12 years in Monday's third race at Hawthorne.

Gabriel, 52, originally retired from riding after the 1990 season. He spent the intervening years as a trainer and then as an assistant to the Sportsman's Park clerk of scales. Gabriel made a return to the saddle late last year.

"I was working and galloping maybe three horses a day when I began thinking about riding again," said Gabriel. "In the back of my mind, there was the age factor to consider, but guys like Earlie Fires and Randy Meier have been a real inspiration to me."

According to the American Racing Manual, Gabriel rode 577 winners from 1973 through 1990. Gabriel considers the Illinois-bred Tex's Zing, whom he rode to five stakes wins in 1989, his best mount.

Gabriel said he is considering moving his tack to Great Lakes Downs in Michigan for the summer, rather than face limited opportunities during the Arlington meet.

* Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap has attracted a field of 10. The top contenders in the 1 1/8-mile race for older horses are Razorback Handicap winner Colorful Tour; the Niall O'Callaghan-trained Keats; 2002 Sportsman's Breeders' Cup winner Mc Mahon; and Discovery Handicap runner-up Regency Park, who is trained by Todd Pletcher.

Colorful Tour will be returning on only 10 days' rest after having finished second in the Grade 3 Fifth Season Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Trainer Noel Hickey has given the mount on the 119-pound highweight to Curt Bourque.

* The grass racing season in Chicago will have one of its earliest starts in recent memory if the weather cooperates. The third and eighth races on Friday's program are both scheduled for the turf.