04/09/2002 11:00PM

Mountaineer Park track report


Trainer Kelly Ritchie is winning with everything he saddles at Mountaineer Park lately. And that's no exaggeration.

In a streak that dates back to March 30, when Comic Trick ($18.80) won a photo finish, Ritchie has gone 6 for 6. Five of his wins have come in the the first seven programs of the spring meet, putting him one ahead of perennial track leader Dale Baird.

Ritchie, 37, a native of Texas who vans his horses to the track on raceday from his farm in Ohio, has compiled a record of 14 for 34 for the year at Mountaineer, which computes to a 41 percent success rate.

Tuesday night, Demarocks ($9.60) scored in a maiden race for Ritchie. Earlier in the week, he sent out a pair of horses who reversed dull form, Machiavelli ($17.20) and Melanie's Buckaroo ($30.20).

Ritchie still has a way to go to catch Frank Passero Jr., who set a record with 14 consecutive winners during a 10-day period at Gulfstream Park in 1996.

* Fast tracks tightened by morning showers played strongly in favor of speed Monday and Tuesday. Seven of Monday's nine winners raced within a length of the lead at the first call. Tuesday, six winners led at every call and two others seized command before turning for home.

* Fans probably got a preview of the first stakes race of the season, the $75,000 Panhandle Handicap, when Tonto Gusto ($6.20), a close second in last year's Christmas Handicap, edged even-money favorite Governor's Pride by a neck in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance sprint last Saturday night. The five-furlong Panhandle will be contested on May 4.

Governor's Pride won five stakes last season, including the Panhandle, but is 0 for 3 this year.