10/17/2008 11:00PM

Newell has lead going into stretch

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Mike Newell has the look of a football linebacker as his broad shoulders busy themselves with the business of a full shed row.

Newell, 50, is leading all Fort Erie trainers in the win column and, with just seven days left in the season, he recognizes the opportunity to lay claim to the 2008 title.

Chasing Newell home are Nick Gonzalez and Lyle Morden, who were both four wins back heading into Sunday's card. Newell has won 31 races and is looking more each day like the one to beat.

"It would be nice to take home the title," said Newell, "but there are still a few days to go, and although I do feel relatively good about my chances, there is still work to do."

Commenting on how he goes about making his jockey selection for a particular horse, the burly, low-key trainer notes that he likes to spread it around and plays no special favorites when it comes to riders.

Newell has more than 37 runners in the barn and notes that in the final days of the meet he may just have to find a couple of bullets to send to the gate, along with riders who suit their running style.

"My wins have come from all over the place," said Newell, "and we have spread them out over several runners.

"Twice a Princess has won three in a row and is as honest as they come, but in general our success this year has come from all corners of the barn. Even my special favorite, our 10-year-old mare Tejabelle, has found the winner's circle. She has been with me for six years and came back to the races after a three-year layoff. Her win was very special."

Newell passed on credit for his good year to Woodbine trainers John Cardella and Greg De Gannes. Both have sent him runners throughout the season.

"There is no end to horses shipping down from Woodbine for a race or two, and you have to be flexible and adjust as needed," said Newell.

On the subject of his plans for the remainder of the year , Newell said "Next month I will be heading down to Mountaineer, where I have booked 15 stalls, and I will also have another 20 head at a nearby training center."

Newell, who has also raced at Thistledown, Mountaineer, and Presque Isle Downs in 2008, is constantly on the go.

"It's every week and 365 days of the year in this business," said Newell. "And believe me, most of us do not do it for the money, but as corny as it may sound, we do it for the love of the game."

Mehak gets first win

Apprentice Mike Mehak began his Thoroughbred racing career here Oct. 12, and the 10-pound bug won in his fourth lifetime start as he scored aboard Sneaky Dee for trainer Steve Owens.

Mehak, who has been riding Quarter Horses for a few years, took a friendly bath from fellow riders following the win.

"I really appreciate the opportunities that the trainers gave me," said the apprentice, "and it was great to win one."

Mehak's agent, David O'Connor, had nothing but praise for the 24-year-old.

"He did extremely well," said O'Connor. "On his winning race, it appeared the filly wanted to drift out on the turn for home, but he kept her focused and fired down the lane. He has plenty of experience riding and winning on Quarter Horses, so that certainly helped in his debut."