06/19/2002 12:00AM

Injury not stopping Albarado this time


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Four years ago at the All-Star Jockey Championship, winning jockey Shane Sellers dedicated his victory to his injured comrade, Robby Albarado, who just days before had suffered a skull fracture in a spill at Churchill Downs.

The gesture was widely lauded, for it was at the core of what the Jockeys' Guild, one of the major sponsors of the All-Star event, is all about - riders helping riders.

Albarado, now 28, long ago recovered from the skull fracture. But true to the perils of his profession, he has endured several other significant work-related injuries since then, including a second head injury and a broken pelvis. His latest injury, a broken finger, nearly jeopardized a return appearance by Albarado in the sixth annual Championship at Lone Star Park on Friday night, but the Louisiana native hand-picked the event to return from a nearly three-week layoff.

"It's an honor in itself just to be picked, so I really wanted to make it," said Albarado, who was named an All-Star for the fourth straight year. "The main thing, though, is I'm physically ready to go."

The injury is to the middle finger of Albarado's left hand. To speed the healing process, metal plates were surgically inserted atop and below the middle knuckle, which still retains flexibility. Albarado, recalling the ugly-looking spill aboard Maestro on June 2, said he feels "extremely lucky" that his injuries were not considerably worse.

Albarado, who will return Saturday to resume riding at his home track, Churchill Downs, said he badly wants to win Friday night.

"I can't stand it when I can't ride," he said.

"Whenever I'm out like I have been, I'm just chomping to get back. There's a mental part to the healing, and that's a big part. I just can't wait to get back in the saddle."

Day and Bailey plead schedule conflicts

Since its 1997 inception, the All-Star Jockey Championship at Lone Star Park has served as a showcase for the national Jockeys' Guild. But this has been a year of conflict within the organization, and two former Guild leaders will be noticeable by their absence at the event.

Pat Day, who has participated in all five previous All-Star Jockey Championships, and Jerry Bailey, last year's winner who has missed the event only once before, each cited scheduling conflicts in declining invitations to this year's event.

It was at this time last year that rumblings were being heard about impending problems at the Guild. Last June 21, Day resigned from the Guild as president and as a member, citing "strong, distinct philosophical differences" with the direction in which the Guild was headed.

Day's resignation came in the immediate aftermath of the firing of the organization's entire staff and regional directors, including longtime national manager John Giovanni. Bailey and several other notable members of the Guild's board of directors also subsequently resigned.

Leadership of the organization was turned over to Matrix Capital Associates, a California management consulting firm headed by Pepperdine University president Wayne L. Gertmenian.

Day is named to ride six horses at Churchill Downs on Friday, while Bailey has four mounts at Belmont Park.

New account established for disabled

As part of the recent restructuring of the Guild, a new account has been developed to assist its 47 permanently disabled members. For the past five years, the more than $500,000 raised during the Jockey Championship at Lone Star Park has gone to the Guild-managed Disabled Riders Fund.

But this year money raised during the Championship will be among the first funds deposited in a new account called the Disabled Jockeys' Endowment. The new account will still benefit the Guild's disabled riders. The difference is that it will be perpetual: The money will not be redistributed, just the interest earned.

The goal is to build an account worth $10 to $20 million. Right now, the fund has $300,000.

"We're working on putting together a program to establish the necessary funds" for the endowment for the rest of the disabled riders' lives, said Albert Fiss, vice president of the Jockeys' Guild.

The funds raised during past Jockey Championships have bought wheelchairs, paid for airplane fare to see a specialist, bought a special van and supplied a new roof. The monies also help injured riders with day-to-day expenses.

Fiss said there are about 1,500 to 1,600 active jockeys. Not counting the top 100 leading earners in the country, the average jockey earns $22,000 a year, before percentages for agents and valets are taken out. Most could not sustain themselves long if seriously injured.

"When you get a jockey that has become permanently disabled, the chances are 15 out of 16 times, essentially, that he is not going to be financially well off enough to take care of himself for the remainder of his life," said Fiss.

And that is the driving force behind establishing the new account.

'Give me $2 to win on McCarron'

As it has for the past four years, Lone Star will offer the All-Star Wager on Friday night. The proposition bet allows fans to make win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta wagers on the 12 riders in the Jockey Championship.

In the past, payoffs have been generous.

Last year, Jerry Bailey won the event and a $2 win ticket on the rider returned $12.80. Bailey also topped a $106.20 exacta with runner-up Laffit Pincay Jr., and a $739.80 trifecta with third-place finisher Pat Day.

Pincay won the event the year before and paid $20.40.

Takeout on the All-Star Wager, which can be bet as race 11 until the close of wagering for race 4, is the same as the track's usual take: 18 percent on win, place, and show wagers; 21 percent on exactas; and 25 percent on trifectas.

Last year, the pool for the All-Star Wager was $111,213. A total of 1 percent of the handle on the special wager, as well as the four races that make up the Jockey Championship, is earmarked for the Disabled Jockeys' Endowment.

Pincay made the favorite

Pincay is the 4-1 morning line favorite for the competition Friday. His mounts are Chimes Motel in the fourth; Wild Axe in the fifth; Rayo De Plata in the seventh; and Heraldo in the eighth.

"I made former champion Laffit Pincay the favorite because he has the most probable winner in the four-race series, Wild Axe in the fifth," said Rick Lee, who set the morning line on the jockeys for Lone Star Park. "I think it's going to be competitive Jockey Championship, because as many as 10 of the 12 horses in the final leg, the eighth race, have a legitimate chance to win."

Lee made Cowboy Cumbia, to be ridden by Edgar Prado, the 3-1 favorite in the eighth race, a five-furlong turf sprint for horses who have started for a claiming price since June 21, 2001. Other stakes winners in the field include Homefieldhit, to be ridden by Russell Baze; Pesky Rascal, Robby Albarado; and St. Martin's Cloak, John Velazquez.

A Who's Who is in the house

In addition to the all-star cast of riders slated to compete in the Jockey Championship this year, a Who's Who of racing industry movers and shakers will be at Lone Star on Friday night. Joe Hirsch, executive columnist for Daily Racing Form, is being feted at a luncheon Friday.

Others in attendance will include retired riders Randy Romero, Angel Cordero Jr., and Bill Hartack; Tim Smith, commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association; and Jim McAlpine, president of Magna Entertainment, which is in the process of purchasing Lone Star Park and could take over ownership of Lone Star as early as August.

-additional reporting by Mary Rampellini