11/01/2002 1:00AM

O'Connor ends yearlong losing streak


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Rob O'Connor II was enduring a nightmare of a year until he found blessed relief. O'Connor finally won a horse race, his first of the year from 32 starters, granting him a reprieve from what he called "a horrible streak."

Until For Bailey's Sake held on to win the second race Thursday at Churchill Downs, O'Connor, 43, had been cursing his misfortune. Not only has his stable dwindled to 10 horses, but his longtime main client and friend, Jim Bohanon, has been suffering with health problems that have precluded him from participating in racing in a meaningful way.

Compounding the misery was the fact his stable had been winless since last December, when Overdrawn won at Fair Grounds. Moreover, several of the losses during that span were excruciating, with a few of the seven runner-up finishes coming by narrow margins. Last spring at Churchill was particularly painful, as five of his nine starters finished second.

"Probably the worst thing is I was coming off my best year in a decade," said O'Connor, referring to a year in which his horses won 14 races and more than $360,000. "But then I took two horses down to New Orleans the middle of last November, and that's when it all started."

O'Connor, a lifelong Louisville resident, began attending Churchill at a young age, when his father owned horses. He took out a trainer's license in 1985 and has proved himself to be a capable horseman who wins his share of races. Clearly, his recent losing streak was an aberration from the norm.

"That's the longest streak I ever want to go through," he said. "I'm glad it's over."

Private Gold out of Iroquois

Conspicuous by his absence from the Iroquois is Private Gold, the Pat Byrne-trained colt who would have had Pat Day aboard as one of the favorites.

Byrne said that when he came to work early Thursday, Private Gold had "some slight filling in his left front ankle. How he got it, I have no idea, maybe goofing off in his stall over night. But the X-rays are clean, and I think I'm going to have the ankle back to normal in a few days. It is disappointing, because he's been training so well."

Because Byrne already has Christmas Away for the Nov. 30 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, the trainer said he probably would point Private Gold for a different race. "Maybe the Hoosier Juvenile or the Great State Challenge," he said.

* Habibti, Trip, and Victory Ride are the most notable horses being pointed to the lone stakes race here next weekend, the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff. Other fillies and mares likely for the one-mile, Grade 2 race are Adoration, Bare Necessities, Flaxen Flyer, Lotta Rhythm, Nasty Storm, and Red n'Gold.

* Of course it's early in the meet, but there are signs that apprentice John McKee may have an outside chance of giving perennial champion Pat Day a run for his money for leading rider. After four of 30 programs, Day led the standings with five wins, followed by McKee with four. But perhaps more significant is that McKee has been riding in the kind of races Day tends to pass, such as maiden-claiming and low-end claiming, so sheer volume of mounts might be what gives McKee a chance.

* Churchill Downs Inc. gave more than $1.7 million last year to charitable causes, according to a report released by the company. CDI president and chief executive officer Tom Meeker said the company has the "resources, responsibility, and motivation" to be a charitable leader.

"Corporate social responsibility today extends beyond creating jobs, generating taxes, and contributing millions of dollars in economic impact to the communities in which a company operates," said Meeker.