03/01/2004 1:00AM

O'Connell, trainer, dead


Richard O'Connell, a former trainer based in New York, died on Sunday after a lengthy illness, according to the Glynn Funeral Home in Rockville Centre, N.Y. He was 54.

O'Connell said shortly before his death that he was battling a blood disease and other unspecified ailments. In 1993, O'Connell sustained a serious head injury when he fell in his Floral Park, N.Y., home. Although he returned to the track later that year, he struggled with his health and finally retired as a trainer in the summer of 2002.

O'Connell, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., trained a pair of New York-bred Grade 1 winners and millionaires, Thunder Rumble and Capades, and was recognized as the New York-bred trainer of the year on three occasions.

Thunder Rumble won the 1992 Travers Stakes as well as several other stakes that year, including the Jim Dandy, Count Fleet, and Montauk. He won two New York-bred championships during his career. In his final year of racing, 1994, Thunder Rumble, who stands stud in New York, won the Saratoga Cup.

Capades, a multiple graded stakes winner for O'Connell, was recognized as the New York-bred Horse of the Year in 1990.

O'Connell saddled his first winner, Stolen Charm, at Aqueduct in 1978. He became the first trainer for Carl Lizza's Flying Zee Stable in 1984 and held that position until 1987.

A wake was scheduled for Tuesday at the Glynn Funeral Home between 7 and 9 p.m.