10/16/2003 11:00PM

King of New England to ride at Big A

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Joe Hampshire Jr., the king of the New England jockey colony, will ride in New York this winter.

With no Thoroughbred racing scheduled in Massachusetts during the winter, Hampshire has decided to start riding at Aqueduct when the fall meet opens on Oct. 29. The last time Hampshire, 39, had a mount in New York was 1988.

Max Hall, Hampshire's agent, was at Belmont Park on Friday morning, announcing his rider's imminent arrival.

Hampshire, who will return to Massachusetts in the spring to ride, has won the last nine riding titles at meets held at Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park. Last year, Hampshire finished third in the nation in wins behind Russell Baze and Cornelio Velasquez with 300 victories, and had the third-best win percentage (23.5), behind Baze and Jerry Bailey.

Hampshire and Hall were a team in New England for nine years until Hall left in December 1999 for New York to book mounts for Norberto Arroyo Jr. When Hall and Arroyo were together, Arroyo was the runner-up for the 2000 Eclipse Award as top apprentice. Eleven months ago, Hall left New York to rejoin his family in Massachusetts and a few weeks after his return, became Hampshire's agent again.

"I'm really excited about doing this," Hampshire said by phone on Friday. "[Hall] is so positive about this, it's hard not to be excited. If it weren't for Max, I wouldn't have considered it. Max has already been in New York and that helps."

Tap the Admiral in 'miracle' recovery

Tap the Admiral, who won the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs in July, is recovering from colitis X, a bacterial infection of the intestinal tract that can be deadly.

Del Carroll II, Tap the Admiral's trainer, said the 5-year-old became ill on Sept. 27, with a fever. The next day he suffered from diarrhea that lasted nearly two weeks. At one point during the ordeal, Carroll and veterinarian James Simpson feared that Tap the Admiral would die.

"It's nothing short of a miracle that he made it back," Carroll said. "At one point, I didn't think he would make it through the night. Even his kidneys tried to shut down. He obviously lost a lot of weight and is just now forming normal manure."

Carroll said that when Tap the Admiral regains his strength he will spend the winter in South Carolina. The trainer is hopeful the horse will return to the races next year.

In his last start, Tap the Admiral finished 10th in the Grade 1 Atto Mile at Woodbine on Sept. 14.

Randaroo targets First Flight

Randaroo, who won the Grade 3 Safely Kept at Pimlico on Oct. 4, will run back in next Saturday's $150,000 First Flight Handicap.

The Safely Kept was Randaroo's second stakes win. She earned her first stakes win in the Grade 3 Valley Stream at Aqueduct last November as a 2-year-old.

Randaroo, who is owned by Joe Allen, was making her first start for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in the Safely Kept.

The First Flight will be Randaroo's first attempt at seven furlongs. She lost her only start beyond six furlongs when she finished fifth in the one mile Acorn in June.

"I think [the distance] will be no problem, with the way she ran and settled off the pace in Maryland," McLaughlin said.

Heberto Castillo Jr., who rode Randaroo in the Safely Kept, has the mount in the Grade 2 First Flight.

Shine Again and Misty Sixes, nominees to the First Flight, worked on Belmont's main track Friday. Shine Again, who has won the last two runnings of the First Flight, went five furlongs in 1:00.11. Misty Sixes went the same distance in 1:00.16. Weights for the First Flight are due out Sunday.

Golden Damsel is back

Golden Damsel, a New York-bred stakes winner, is gearing up for a return to the races. After winning the Bouwerie Stakes by 9 3/4 lengths here in the spring, Golden Damsel was found to have a small fracture in her left knee. The break was small enough that it didn't require surgery.

Golden Damsel was laid up at Bright View Farm in Columbus, N.J., and returned to trainer Gary Contessa's barn on Sept. 6.

"She got a little foundation at Bright View with some jogging and galloping in a field," Contessa said. "She is close to running; around the opening week at Aqueduct. I would like to get a nice race in her, where she blows the doors off in her first race back."

Golden Damsel worked six furlongs in 1:16.81 at Aqueduct on Thursday.

* Unswept, a stakes-placed runner in Contessa's barn, is about three works away from making his comeback. Unswept hasn't run since finishing fourth in the Lost Code Breeders' Cup at Hawthorne April 5. After that race, the 3-year-old was diagnosed with a mild strain in his suspensory ligament.