09/04/2003 11:00PM

Hammond's title a first on several levels

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nearly a week after Ellis Park recognized her as their leading trainer with a trophy and a simple presentation in the winner's circle, Kim Hammond is still being congratulated by dozens of friends and colleagues throughout the racing industry.

"It's been wonderful, it really has," Hammond said earlier this week from Hoosier Park. "Trainers I do business with in Chicago and southern Illinois, and the folks here, they've all been great."

Hammond sent out 15 winners at the Ellis meet that ended Sept. 1, defeating Tom Amoss by two wins. The title was not only the first in Hammond's 22-year career, but also the first by a woman in the 82-year history of Ellis Park. Hammond said that her first training title was the result of "a lot of hard work" and that her gender didn't make the task any harder.

"I actually don't find that it's any tougher for a woman in this game," said Hammond, 46. "I've got no problems in that area. I've always thought that if you've got the right horse in the race, you've got the best chance to win."

With the Ellis meet over, Hammond has 30 horses stabled at Hoosier Park and another 20 at Fairmount Park. Earlier this year she competed at the inaugural meet at Indiana Downs, and later this month she will race at Hawthorne Race Course when that meet opens.

Hammond said she "never even thought" about winning the Ellis title when the meet started July 9. Based primarily at Fairmount in southern Illinois, Hammond said she went to Ellis "to make a buck and have a little fun. I had no idea anything like that could happen."

Hammond was born just a few miles from Fairmount in East St. Louis, Ill. Her father and mentor, Everett Hammond, is a longtime fixture at Fairmount as an owner and former trainer.

Hammond said she had "knocked at the door quite a few years" when contending for training titles at Fairmount but had never finished first. Partly because Ralph Martinez has become so dominant in recent years among Fairmount trainers, "We packed up," Hammond said, "and sent our horses to a place where we had a little more fighting chance."

Whether or not she acknowledges it, Hammond struck a blow for womanhood with her Ellis title. Historically, women have rarely been able to better their male counterparts in regard to training titles, although there have been occasional exceptions, such as Kathleen O'Connell in Florida, Shirley Girten in Ohio, and Kathy Walsh (who now trains in Southern California) in Washington and Minnesota.

Other women also have earned considerable acclaim for their training feats in recent years, most notably Laura de Seroux, who trains Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, and Jenine Sahadi, who saddled back-to-back winners of the Breeders' Cup Sprint (Lit de Justice in 1996 and Elmhurst in 1997). Trainers such as Dianne Carpenter, Shelly Riley, and Nancy Alberts also have drawn widespread interest during the Triple Crown in recent years.

Yet, all in all, training Thorough-breds remains very much the domain of men. Regardless, Hammond is simply elated to have won a title for herself and her family.

"My father taught me right," Hammond said. "We work hard, with no time for play. We don't try to go setting records. We don't try to strive for anything, really, except to make a decent living. So what we did at Ellis was real special."