06/19/2001 11:00PM

Incentive for riders: Helping the disabled


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's not just the chance to showcase their own, the men and women commonly known as "the human stars of the game."

It's not just the competition that they all thrive on, or the camaraderie that All-Star night brings.

No, for the jockeys in the fifth annual NTRA All-Star Jockey Championship - to be held Friday night at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Tex. - the event represents a chance to give active support to a cause near and dear to them.

"It gives some necessary exposure to the riders," said Pat Day, the Jockeys' Guild president who has ridden in every All-Star competition since the event began in 1997. "But most importantly, it has helped tremendously in securing funds for the Disabled Jockeys Fund," administered by the Jockeys' Guild.

When Lone Star began All-Star night, the primary mission was to spotlight jockeys, who often are overshadowed by other aspects of racing. It was to promote the profession of race-riding and the men and women who do it best.

"Baseball, basketball and hockey all have their mid-season All-Star breaks," said Lone Star Park president Corey Johnsen. "In Thoroughbred racing, we have the Triple Crown, and then there's a break before the road to the Breeders' Cup. The NTRA All-Star Jockey Championship in late June is a perfect fit to showcase the talents of our sport's human stars."

As a major side benefit, All-Star night raises considerable capital for jockeys who have been disabled or injured. One percent of total handle from the four All-Star races and the All-Star Wager goes directly to aid disabled and injured jockeys. In four years, more than $420,000 has been raised. Other fund-raising vehicles tied to the All-Star competition are a memorabilia auction, autograph session, and golf tournament.

"I've always said it's a win-win situation for everybody," said Day. "For Lone Star, the industry, the fans, and certainly for the riders."

For jockeys, being named an All-Star is a thrill. "Once you realize that there's something like 2,500 active jockeys, it's a big, big honor to be one of the 11 named," said Robby Albarado, who will ride in the competition for the third time. (The 12th and final jockey named is the current leading rider at the Lone Star meet, Corey Lanarie.)

Day, Jerry Bailey and Laffit Pincay Jr. are Hall of Fame jockeys who will compete Friday night; a fourth, Earlie Fires, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August. Bailey said he "hated missing last year," when he had a previous commitment to ride at the Ascot meet in England. Bailey rode in the first three All-Star events.

"The people at Lone Star always really appreciate All-Star night," said Bailey, a Dallas native who still says, "It's home for me."

While All-Star night represents a rare opportunity for Lone Star fans to see some of their icons up close and personal, horseplayers around North America also get to participate by watching and wagering on the four All-Star races via simulcast. The All-Star wager has proven highly popular, having averaged over $100,000 in handle since its 1998 inception.

Moreover, a barrage of publicity, including television coverage on ESPN2, has been afforded the event since the NTRA signed on as a major sponsor in 1998.

"It's great exposure for the game," said Albarado. "The fans in Dallas welcome us like we're one of them. The proceeds go to the people who need it. Everybody has a good time. It really is a good cause all around."