03/17/2006 12:00AM

Out of harm's way

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John Engelhardt
Ex-jockey Tony D'Amico won 3,044 races in his career. He now runs his own lawn care business in Kentucky.

FLORENCE, Ky. - When Pat Day, Gary Stevens, and Jerry Bailey retired in recent months, they were given the proverbial red-carpet treatment on the way out. For Hall of Fame jockeys with truly legendary accomplishments, such lavish send-offs were only to be expected.

Conversely, the retirement of Tony D'Amico came with no front-page headlines or press conferences. It did come, however, in a hospital bed, where D'Amico spent two weeks in November 2004 following the last of countless spills in his 30-year riding career.

"I was in intensive care for 11 days, 14 in the hospital," said D'Amico.

He's fine now - if "fine" means being able to live and work relatively pain-free with 36 titanium screws permanently implanted in your rib cage. D'Amico, who turned 50 last July, runs his own one-man lawn care business in northern Kentucky, where his career as a jockey brought him from Cleveland nearly 20 years ago.

With the peak of the Turfway Park racing season coming next Saturday with the 35th running of the Lane's End Stakes, D'Amico cannot avoid hearing or seeing news about the racing business. He is philosophical and somewhat wistful about no longer being part of racing, but the bottom line is he is thankful to be ambulatory. Besides all the hardware in his chest, he also has about seven screws implanted in his scapula, or shoulder blade, along with plates and screws fusing together his second through seventh vertebrae.

"I outlived the odds," he said recently when he visited Turfway. "I do miss the camaraderie around the jocks' room, but I don't miss fighting the daily routine. And I sure don't miss laying in the hospital."

When D'Amico suffered multiple injuries, most notably broken ribs, in the last race at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3, 2004, he had 3,044 wins. "I just wish I could have chose my own time to go. I never really got any closure on my career."

Many of D'Amico's finest career moments came at Turfway, where he won 35 stakes, second only to Day's 37. He won four riding titles at Turfway, eight at Thistledown, and at least one each at Ellis Park, River Downs, and Beulah Park. Perhaps his career peak spanned several months from 2001 to 2002, when he rode a pair of Ken McPeek-trained 2-year-olds, Repent and Take Charge Lady, to important victories in Kentucky, including the Grade 1 Ashland in 2002 with Take Charge Lady. The McPeek horses were regarded as top contenders for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, respectively, but D'Amico ultimately was taken off both horses in favor of A-list jockeys.

"When I got fired off the good horses, it was like I was a nobody, and it did hurt," he said. "But at the same time, I understood. It's like people would say, if you've got one golf shot for $1 million, don't you want Tiger Woods to take it? I knew the way the game worked. I won my only Grade 1 on Take Charge Lady, so at least Kenny gave me the opportunity to begin with."

D'Amico said he has no interest in becoming a trainer or jockey agent and that he enjoys the solitude and invigoration of lawn work. He also is able to spend more time with his wife, Mindy, and 11-year-old son, Austin, than when he was riding.

"I had a wonderful career and I invested my money well, so I really have no complaints," he said. "I try to follow the Derby preps and stuff, but I'm pretty busy with everything else."

D'Amico laughs when he thinks about how his mode of transportation on grass has changed. Whereas he once rode horses traveling nearly 40 miles an hour on turf courses, he now glides along on his X-Mark riding mowers. "The mowers go fast enough," he said. "Believe me."

Silent Times adds to Lane's End

Turfway racing officials are expecting a sizable and contentious field of 3-year-olds for the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End, a race that could sport a bit of international intrigue.

Silent Times, a Group 2 winner in Europe last fall, was scheduled to be shipped this weekend into the quarantine facility at Keeneland after being flown overseas from England. Silent Times, trained by Eoghan O'Neill, would be making his first start since finishing in a dead heat for win in the Group 2 Champagne at Doncaster on Sept. 9.

Otherwise, the 1 1/8-mile Lane's End is expected to be headed by Strong Contender, the John Ward-trained colt who was highly impressive in a Feb. 12 allowance victory at Gulfstream Park. Other projected starters include Seaside Retreat, Simon Pure, Kings Challenge, Malameeze, Star Spangled Gator, and possibly the one-two finishers in the John Battaglia Memorial, Laity and Pair of Kings.

Turfway stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman said he also is hoping to get a Lane's End starter from Bob Baffert, Nick Zito, and/or Todd Pletcher. "We should know more early in the week," said Wehrman. "It should be a big field."

One of the four supporting stakes on the Lane's End undercard, the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, also is for 3-year-olds. The 1 1/16-mile Rushaway is being considered as an alternative for several Lane's End possibilities, including Laity.