11/16/2001 1:00AM

Old-school trainer shifts gears


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Mike Bell, the trainer who worked closely with the legendary Ruffian as Frank Whiteley's assistant, is dispersing his stable this winter to work with 2-year-olds in Camden, S.C.

Bell, whose old-school methods long ago earned him the admiration of many of his backstretch colleagues, said Friday at his Churchill Downs barn that he will work with about a dozen 2-year-olds at the Camden Training Center instead of maintaining a string of horses at his customary winter base at the Fair Grounds.

Bell, 54, said the decision to disperse the nine horses currently in his care may only be temporary and that he could resume training a public stable here or in Lexington in the spring.

"I'm regrouping," he said. "The game has changed so much for a guy like me, I just decided to give up the racetrack for a while and work with some babies."

Bell long has been widely known among horsemen for his meticulous care of horses and for taking a highly conservative approach with them. A joke that has circulated in recent years is that although the great filly Serena's Song went 18-for-38 in her career for D. Wayne Lukas, she would have gone 9-for-10 for a more conservative trainer such as Shug McGaughey or Neil Drysdale. The punch line: She would have gone 3-for-3 for Mike Bell.

Bell was closely profiled in Jane Schwartz's book "Burning From the Start," which was the story of Ruffian's career. Bell was Whiteley's right-hand man when Ruffian ran in 1974-75. In Camden, Bell again will be near Whiteley, the Hall of Famer who is retired from active training but still works with young Thoroughbreds.

Bell's career record is 282 wins from 1,519 starts (19 percent), and earnings of $4,916,131. Over the last 15 years or so, he typically has wintered at the Fair Grounds or Oaklawn Park.

Former baseball executive joins board

Leonard Coleman, the former president of baseball's National League, was named Thursday to the board of directors of Churchill Downs Inc., becoming the first African-American to serve on the Churchill board.

Coleman, who was NL president from 1994-99, fills a vacancy on the 15-member board created in July when former CDI

chairman Will Farish resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.

Coleman currently is president of Newark Sports & Entertainment, which is seeking to develop a new arena for the New Jersey Nets and Devils. He calls himself a racing fan who has "long admired the pageantry and tradition of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs."

Also at its quarterly meeting, the CDI board approved a 50-cent per share dividend on common stock, payable Jan. 18.

Spain set for rematch

Spain breezed five furlongs in 59.80 seconds here Friday morning in her final tuneup for a rematch with Unbridled Elaine in the $250,000 Falls City Handicap.

Spain, who appeared on her way to a repeat victory in the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Distaff before being nailed in the final yards by Unbridled Elaine, is one of about seven fillies and mares expected for the Grade 3 Falls City.

Last Thursday, Unbridled Elaine, who figures as a slight favorite with Pat Day to ride, had her final tightener when she worked five furlongs in 1:01.20.

The Falls City, to be run Thursday, kicks off the best part of the fall stakes schedule and the end of the fall meet. The Clark Handicap will be run Friday, with the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod Stakes closing the 24-day meet on Saturday.

First post for each of the last three programs is 11:30 a.m.

Asher almost ready

Asher, who would have been a logical candidate for the Falls City, has been idle since finishing poorly in the Oct. 6 Arlington Matron. "She had some stomach problems that led us to send her to the clinic," said trainer Ron Moquett. "She checked out okay, but that's why you haven't seen her for a while."

Moquett said Asher could race again next month at Turfway Park or Fair Grounds. The main objectives for her will be early next year at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, where owner James Mayer Jr. lives.

Asher, a 4-year-old Mountain Cat filly, has earned over $250,000 this year, primarily from four stakes wins, highlighted by the Grade 3 Gardenia at Ellis Park.

* Trainer Ken McPeek said Friday that he will wait until day of entry to decide what he will do about the KJC Stakes. McPeek has two major candidates for the closing-day KJC in Repent and Harlan's Holiday. Entries for the KJC will be taken Thursday.

Stakesless Sunday

Sunday is the only weekend program of the meet without a stakes race; the eighth-race feature is a $46,800 allowance at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Max's Friend, a 3-year-old colt whom trainer Pat Byrne had thought about running in the Hollywood Derby next weekend, figures as a solid favorite under Larry Melancon in a full field. Other contenders include Tarzan Cry, to be ridden by Pat Day.

The 10th and last race, a $44,200 turf allowance for fillies and mares, is the middle leg of the Churchill Downs Simulcast Network Turf Pick 3. A full field also is entered in that race.