06/03/2003 12:00AM

Olivares, 53, to return to riding


ARCADIA, Calif. - In the 12 years since he retired from race riding at age 41, former jockey Frank Olivares resisted the occasional urge to return. Olivares was a horse trainer after all, with a small stable at Santa Anita. His thirst to ride would have to be satisfied by working and galloping horses in the morning.

But the yearning to ride grew stronger this spring, and when Funny Cide and Jose Santos came along, Olivares could not hold back. He wanted to be a jockey, again. So, he will. More than 12 years after his final ride in a parimutuel race

Dec. 15, 1990, at Bay Meadows, Olivares is planning a return to the saddle this month at Hollywood Park.

"I've been thinking about this for a while, and when I was watching the Preakness and seeing Santos win - they show such a close-up of the rider and the enjoyment - I said, 'I've got to do this again.' When a horse is running like [Funny Cide], that's the greatest feeling in the world. I really miss that."

Olivares is not counting on riding soon in a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race. But when he returns in two weeks, he will be the most physically fit 53-year-old in the jockeys' room. "I've never stopped riding," Olivares said Tuesday. "Some guys quit and never ride a horse. But I've always ridden horses [in the morning]. There were times I was getting on 8 or 10 a day. As far as being fit, I'm fit."

Over a 22-year riding career that began in 1968, Olivares's mounts won 1,775 races and earned more than $30 million from 18,827 starts, including a shocking upset in the 1983 Florida Derby. Riding 85-1 longshot Croeso for trainer Jerry Fanning, Olivares put Croeso on the lead and they won by 1 1/4 lengths over 2-5 favorite Copelan. Other Olivares stakes wins included the 1975 Sunset Handicap on Cruiser II, 1989 Del Mar Futurity on Drag Race, and 1977 Del Mar Futurity on Go West Young Man.

Beyond Croeso, Fanning and Olivares teamed with 1979 Malibu Stakes winner Little Reb, and the last ride before Olivares retired - Pleasant Variety, who was unplaced in the 1990 Bay Meadows Handicap. Olivares said it was Fanning who "put me on the map. When I first started, you needed a big outfit behind you, and Jerry always had 25 or 30 horses."

In his final season of riding in 1990, Olivares won just 40 races and was ready for a change. Fanning said it seemed early for Olivares to stop riding.

"I thought maybe he quit a little young anyway," Fanning said. "He wasn't that old, he'd never been injured bad, and never had a weight problem. I think maybe he just got a little sour. Maybe he's freshened up, and ready to try again."

Among the qualities credited to Olivares was his utility as a speed rider and his left-handed stick. The issue is whether those attributes will be remembered, or resurrected. Olivares admits it will be tough.

"People are going to be apprehensive about giving me a shot, but once they see me ride, they're going to see I'm just as good, if not better, than I was." Olivares said. "I think I'll be better. I'm more patient now."

But will a 53-year-old rider get the opportunity? Olivares notes that Laffit Pincay rode until he was 56.

"The thing that may help me was that Laffit kind of broke the age barrier. People started to see that if a horse is fast enough to get there, he'll get you there. You just have to get on live horses. That's what everybody found out with Laffit, you give him a horse with ability to get there, he will get them there."

Olivares disbanded his eight-runner stable this week, sending runners to Fanning, Jeff Mullins, and Bill Spawr. The best horses Olivares trained were Grade 1-placed Waitryst and Siebe, who defeated then-unknown Cigar in the 1993 Ascot Handicap at Bay Meadows. Olivares trainees won 99 races from 1,171 starts, and earned more than $3.5 million. He was 2 for 28 in 2003.

The most recent riding win with which Olivares is credited was the 1998 Rocking Chair Derby at Del Mar, a non-parimutuel race that Olivares won on Barry Abrams-trained Chairwoman. Olivares said Tuesday he weighs 118 pounds and is "probably a couple weeks before I ride my first race." He also will need to find an agent.

Olivares, who turns 54 on Oct. 28, has been married three years, and his wife, Jennifer, is all for the comeback. "She said, 'You should have done this years ago,' " Olivares said.

Fanning starts fewer horses now than when Olivares was riding in the 1980's, and will see if the returning jockey regains his timing and dedication before committing to giving him a mount. One thing on which Fanning and Olivares both agree - the jockey colony is not the same. Three Hall of Famers retired in the past year - Chris McCarron last summer at age 47, Eddie Delahoussaye early this year at 51, and Pincay recently at 56.

Said Fanning, "Our jockey colony kind of lost its glitter last year. We've picked up some riders, but when you lose McCarron, Delahoussaye, and Pincay, you lose a lot."