07/11/2002 11:00PM

McKnight decides to take a break


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - For jockey Jim McKnight, the time has come to place family ahead of profession.

That's why McKnight will be heading home from Woodbine this week, to Louisville, Ky., where he will take a break from riding and consider his future.

He plans to get reacquainted with his two children. "My daughter will be 13 in September, and my son will be 12 in November," said McKnight.

"I've been gone for most of their upbringing. I feel like I'm at a point in my life when I need to be there, spend more time with them."

McKnight, who turned 50 last winter, was born in Belfast, Ireland, but was raised in Guelph, Ontario, and began his riding career at Fort Erie in 1970.

But it was Kentucky where McKnight hit the big time. In 1977 he won both the spring and fall riding titles at Churchill Downs, where he has recorded 20 career stakes wins.

And with 883 winners at Churchill, McKnight still ranks third among riders there despite moving his tack to Woodbine in 1991.

"[Trainer] Mark Casse had come up here from Kentucky, and asked me to join him," said McKnight, explaining why he came to Woodbine. "I used to ride first-string for Mark for years down there."

McKnight has gone on to win 411 races at Woodbine and his career total stood at 2,955 heading into Friday's program. He hopes to go out with a bang here Sunday aboard Devastating, his only scheduled mount, in the $105,000 Kamar Stakes.

"I should be able to get everything tied up Monday, and leave Tuesday," said McKnight. "When I get down there I'll take a little time.

"I still plan on riding. If it materializes, fine, and if it doesn't I'll sort of look at my other options, see what's there."

Mr. Epperson gets a rest

McKnight will depart with particularly fond memories of Mr. Epperson, a gelding he rode 25 times. That partnership yielded netted nine victories, including stakes scores here in last year's Nearctic, Play the King, and Highlander.

Coincidentally, Mr. Epperson also went "home" Friday.

"He's going to the farm for a couple of weeks," said Scott Fairlie, trainer and part-owner of Mr. Epperson. "He's going to freshen up."

Mr. Epperson was nominated to next Saturday's 6 1/2-furlong Bold Venture Handicap, but in last Sunday's allowance prep finished last of five after dueling for the early lead.

"He just doesn't like being on the inside," said Fairlie. "Every time he's taken an inside press, he's spit the bit."

Mr. Epperson, a 7-year-old gelding, won 5 of 9 starts here last year but is 1 for 6 in 2002.

"Any time you win five races with a horse one year, it's tough to do again," said Fairlie. "There are too many variables."

Fairlie hopes to have Mr. Epperson ready to defend his title in the Grade 3, $150,000 Play the King, a seven-furlong turf race here Aug. 17.

Ex-claimer Jab may get stakes shot

In the meantime, Fairlie could be represented in the $125,000 Bold Venture by Jab, a 6-year-old gelding who would be stepping up in search of his third straight victory.

Jab, claimed for $50,000 at Saratoga last August, was sent to Fairlie by owner Daniel Herrman this spring.

But after winning his opener for $40,000 and finishing third for $32,000, Jab was purchased privately by John and Marilyn Hillier, who race as Love 2 Win Stable.

Jab has been right on target in two subsequent appearances, winning for $47,500 over 6 1/2 furlongs in the mud and for $77,500 over six furlongs on a fast track.

The latest victory, a six-length romp on June 28, earned Jab a Beyer Speed Figure of 99. McKnight was in the irons for Jab's four local outings.

"We're definitely considering the Bold Venture," said Fairlie. "I wish it was six furlongs, but he can get 6 1/2. He's on top of his game."

Jab has been weighted at 114 pounds for the Bold Venture, which attracted 17 nominees.

Wake at Noon, who carried 124 pounds while winning last Sunday's six-furlong prep, has been assigned 124 pounds as the topweight for the Bold Venture, and is slated to start.

"I don't think the weights will make a difference," said Abraham Katryan, who trains Wake at Noon for owner Bruno Schickedanz. "But I think some of those other horses should carry a little more."

Cirillo restocks stable

T rainer John Cirillo is in a rebuilding mode.

Cirillo was left horseless last month after four runners owned by longtime client Charlie Simmons, including the promising 3-year-old Mulligan the Great, were removed from his shed row.

The trainer now is starting over with four maidens, only one of whom has seen action.

My Lucky Strike, a 3-year-old Smart Strike gelding owned by Billy Vine, started twice here last summer, finishing fifth each time in maiden special weight company.

Shareefa, a 3-year-old Deposit Ticket filly, also is owned by Vine.

Cirillo's other charges are the 2-year-olds Grin and Smile, who is an Editor's Note filly, and Feisty Snowman, a Frosty the Snowman gelding. Grin and Smile's dam is the stakes-winning Smiles With a Fist.