01/02/2003 1:00AM

Molinari going jockey to agent

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Jockey Edwin Molinari is trying to quietly retire, which is fitting considering he didn't make much noise in a successful career as a jockey.

A 37-year-old Puerto Rico native, Molinari is suffering from liver problems and will end his riding career to become the agent for Jose Bermudez, who returns to Suffolk Downs after having ridden at several Mid-Atlantic tracks.

Molinari never had a breakout season on the order of Carl Gambardella or Rudy Baez, against whom he competed for most of his 15-year career. He was always one of the top-five riders here, and a fan favorite for his propensity to bring in nice-priced winners. He started his career with a splash as the leading apprentice at Suffolk in 1987, riding first-call for then-leading trainers Vinny Blengs and Ron Perez.

Nicknamed "Eddie Mo," Molinari got his start at a riding academy while going to college before becoming an exercise rider at El Commandante Racetrack near his home in Puerto Rico. He will wrap up his career with more than 1,000 wins and mount earnings of more than $8.5 million.

Bermudez returns to New England after following trainer Al Borosh to New Jersey to ride there five years ago. He was named on two horses in Saturday's feature.

Horsemen bar simulcast signals

The New England and Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association continued on Thursday to keep Suffolk Downs and Turfway Park simulcasts out of Rockingham Park and Seabrook Greyhound Track in New Hampshire.

The region's horsemen had withheld simulcasting permission to all parimutuel facilities in Rhode Island, where there is a dog track and a jai a lai fronton, and New Hamsphire, where there are three dog tracks and Rockingham. Those states border Massachusetts, where Suffolk Downs is conducting live racing. All but Rockingham and Seabrook, which is owned by Rockingham, agreed to negotiate compensation to the New England horsemen for taking Thoroughbred simulcasts and thus had no disruption of the signal on Jan. 1.

Rockingham has sued the two horsemen's groups, claiming they are colluding to prevent the track from doing business. A New Hampshire superior court judge denied a Rockingham motion to show the simulcasts and will schedule a hearing soon.

Meanwhile, business was up at Suffolk on New Year's Day. Total handle topped $1 million for the first time in two years for the season opener, and attendance was up 18 percent from last year, despite foggy, stormy weather conditions.

Tejano Couture is local hero

For the third time in six years, the year's winningest horse in North America lives in Boston. He is Tejano Couture, whose 11 victories won him that honor for 2002.

In 1997, New England-based Maybe Jack won that title by winning a tie-breaking match race with Finger Lakes invader Pro on Ice. Difficult Doll tied for the lead in wins in 2000.

Tejano Couture, 9, is scheduled to run in a $5,000 claimer on Saturday.