04/20/2005 12:00AM

Mom returns to riding on a mission


Lori Wydick, a leading jockey at River Downs in the early 1990's, rode in her first race in nearly five years last Friday and notched her first win of the meet on Saturday. The win came on the third mount of her comeback, on Melissa's Luv Song in the fifth race.

Wydick's return to race-riding is a result more of personal matters than chasing unfulfilled aspirations. Wydick retired in 2000 to care for her son Matthew, now 5. But she has been embroiled in a prolonged custody battle with the boy's father, Greg Morehead.

Last August, a court ruled in favor of the state of Kentucky taking custody of Matthew, reversing a different court's ruling that gave Wydick sole custody of her son. A felony warrant for abduction was issued against Wydick, but she says she wasn't notified of a judicial hearings being held that led to the state taking custody of Matthew. In November Wydick turned herself in and relinquished custody.

Allegations of physical abuse of Matthew by his father, and of Wydick's fitness to retain custody, have yet to be resolved, which is why Matthew been in foster care the past five months.

"One reason I'm riding is to get an income," said Wydick, who says he already has amassed about $70,000 in legal fees.

Another reason for her return to riding is to counter allegations of mental unfitness, which have prevented Wydick from regaining full custody of Matthew.

"I'm riding to show I'm very well respected and a professional," she said. "I've always been a professional. It's very complimentary that I can step back into my business after five years and be respected. That says a lot about my character."

Unlike some riders coming back from an extended break, it did not take Wydick long to get back into riding shape. A natural lightweight at 103 pounds, she breezed horses for only three weeks, in addition to a regular routine of yoga and lifting light weights.

Wydick says that encouragement from the racing community in recent weeks means a great deal to her. "They know my little boy and I've had so much support; it's been a wonderful thing," she said. "They're calling Charlie wanting to ride me, and that says a lot."

Charlie is Charles Wisbey, Wydick's agent, who first handled Wydick's book in 1989. Within two years of the start of their business partnership, Wydick led the standings at two of River's three annual meetings.

"One of the things most important to me is to make sure that I'm really focused on the things I want to accomplish professionally and personally," said Wydick. "I'm shooting for a lot, actually."

* The promising 3-year-old Circulator improved his record to 3 wins in 4 starts, defeating older horses in a statebred nonwinners-of-three allowance on Sunday.