12/10/2005 12:00AM

Old faces and new greet meeting

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - A blend of the old and the new best describes the trainers and jockeys who have gathered for the 80th season of racing at Tampa Bay Downs, which opened on Saturday.

A new racing secretary, John Morrissey, has added some new blood and new faces to join an already strong group of horsemen who have called Tampa their winter home for many seasons. A tour of the backstretch recently also turned up many Tampa regulars and old friends.

Forest Kaelin was busy turning in foal papers at the racing secretary's office, and the veteran trainer, who usually races in Kentucky spring through fall and then at Fair Grounds in the winter, said that the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina at Fair Grounds forced him to change his schedule. But it has upside for him.

Kaelin owns a home in Ockeechobee, Fla. "But I've never had much chance to spend much time there when I was racing in New Orleans," he said. "Now that I'm stabled here I can get down there in a couple of hours, so I'm happy about that."

Kaelin has 16 horses on the grounds at Tampa, and is eager to get some of his turf runners on the Tampa turf course.

"Turf racing at the Fair Grounds is so iffy, with the weather and all that," he said. "I'm really looking forward to being able to get my turf horses racing here. Sometimes in the past it would be months before I could get in and race on the turf."

Kaelin has a promising 2-year-old named King Cohl that he is very high on.

"He's won three straight at Charles Town, all stakes, and I'm going to run him one more time up there, then he's going to ship here and point for the Sam Davis and Tampa Bay Derby," Kaelin said.

At barn 9, Bernell Rhone was smiling as he described the successes of his turf horse, Dontbotherknockin this fall.

"He ran some bang-up races during the summer at Canterbury, but we could never get lucky and win one," Rhone said. "Then we sent him to Remington for the $125,000 DeBartolo Handicap, and he won that one. We shipped him over to Louisiana Downs, and he won the $125,000 Harrah's Breeders' Cup. Then he came back to Remington and won the $50,000 Remington Green, so he knocked out $180,000 in earnings in three races."

Jockey race looks like a scramble

Jesus Castanon's decision to stay in Kentucky this winter should make for an interesting battle for leading rider at Tampa Bay this meeting.

The clear favorite to regain the top spot is T.D. Houghton, the former leading rider at Tampa Bay who battled Castanon down to the final days the past two seasons, but there are several others worth watching.

Joe Rocco Sr. is resurgent, coming off a very strong second-half Delaware Park meeting, where he won five stakes. He is riding with a renewed vigor. On the backstretch this week, he was said he was encouraged by the number of former clients of his who are stabled at Tampa.

"I've been lucky to do well in the past for a number of outfits here' " he said. "Hopefully history will repeat itself."

Jose Lezcano, did well at Monmouth while riding first-call for the powerful Ziadie barn, seems to get better as years goes by. Aurelio Toribio Jr. moves over here from Miami, where he ranked among the leaders at Calder for several years. Toribio's engagements will be handled by Don Hill, Castanon's former agent.Hill also will handle Emannuel Cosme, who did well here as an apprentice.

Others who will make their presence felt are Juan Umana, Daniel Centeno, Winston Thompson, Tommy Pompell, and Oliver Castillo.