08/02/2005 11:00PM

Pat Day calls it a career

Pat Day, the all-time leading money earner among jockeys, has retired from riding.

Pat Day, the all-time leading jockey by earnings, has retired from race-riding, his agent, Doc Danner, confirmed on Wednesday. Day was expected to make it official at a press conference on Thursday at his home track of Churchill Downs.

"He is retiring," Danner said by phone from Kentucky. "The Lord has advised him to move on and to help advance his chaplaincy backside program and promote Christianity."

Day, 51, did not return a phone message on Wednesday. His mobile phone voice-mail message said he would be holding a press conference Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Speculation about Day's retirement was fueled when he did not arrive for the meet in Saratoga, where he has ridden for several summers. Day went on a sabbatical earlier this week to ponder his future. He missed a good portion of this year after he had surgery in March to repair torn cartilage in his hip. The surgery forced Day to end his streak of riding in 21 straight Kentucky Derbies from 1984 to 2004. Day won his only Derby aboard Lil E. Tee in 1992.

Day became the sport's top all-time money-winning jockey when he won the Sword Dancer aboard With Anticipation at Saratoga in August 2002. He retires with total earnings of $297,912,019, $11 million more than Jerry Bailey. Day won 8,803 races, fourth on the all-time list behind Laffit Pincay Jr. (9,530), Russell Baze (9,036), and Bill Shoemaker (8,833).

Day last rode on July 17 at Delaware Park, where he guided Two Trail Sioux to a second-place finish in the $1 million Delaware Handicap. His last victory came aboard Ay Caramba for trainer Bobby Frankel in a Churchill allowance race on July 10.

"It was a little bit of a surprise to go through all that rehab to come back 110 percent, but he wasn't feeling the glory of winning like he used to," Danner said. "He felt uneasy, that's why he went on a sabbatical. He's made me a better person, and he'll be a good spokesperson for the Lord.''

In addition to winning one Kentucky Derby, Day won the Preakness five times and the Belmont Stakes on three occasions. His 12 Breeders' Cup victories - including the inaugural Classic aboard Wild Again - are second behind Jerry Bailey's 14. Day leads all riders in the Breeders' Cup series in earnings with $23,033,360.

Day, who rode his first winner on July 29, 1973, at Prescott Downs in Arizona, led the nation in wins six times and won the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding jockey four times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.

He grew up in the small ranching community of Eagle, Colo., where he competed in rodeos and was on the high school wrestling team. He got a job at the Riverside Thoroughbred Farm in Southern California in 1973 and won his first race later that summer.

Early in his career, Day was involved in drugs and alcohol before becoming a born-again Christian in 1984.

The news of Day's retirement reverberated through the Saratoga backstretch Wednesday morning, where horsemen reflected on Day's remarkable career and his contribution to the sport on and off the track.

Few trainers had more success with Day than D. Wayne Lukas, who teamed with Day to win major races with horses like Lady's Secret, Flanders, Timber Country, Tabasco Cat Tank's Prospect, Cat Thief, Azeri, and Commendable.

"Probably the most exciting for both Pat and I was Cat Thief's Classic," Lukas said, referring to the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic that Cat Thief won at 19-1. "We were not figured to win that. He rode a picture-perfect race, the horse ran well. That was a thrill. But Pat and I won some big ones with the 1-9 shots like Azeri all the way to Commendable and Cat Thief and some of those.

"I had a great rapport with him. I consider him a dear friend. I hope he stays involved in some way in the racing game. I think it would be a great loss if he didn't stay involved in some way."

Among the champions Day rode was Theatrical, who was trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

"He was magic on that horse," Mott said. "Theatrical was very tough and wanted to be a little bit of a runaway. He got him to relax on a nice long hold, which wasn't an easy chore. He had, of course, very good hands."

Day won a lot of races for trainer Neil Howard, including the 1990 Preakness with Summer Squall. Howard felt Day's attributes went beyond his talents as a rider.

"We all try to put our best foot forward all the time, but sometimes we're not really doing it," Howard said. "But he always does, and that really taught me something. Pat seemed to always give you good words of wisdom after any race. Win, lose or draw, there was always a little something that he would say that helped you out a little bit with a horse."

Day also helped out aspiring young riders.

"In a race you could always see Pat talking to a young rider, especially if he was going head and head with him - 'Slow down, come back off of it,' " trainer John Ward said. "He was a great coach and displayed a patient style of riding, which sometimes you don't get when you see riders come out of other jurisdictions."

"Believe me, I learned so much by riding with him consistently," said Robby Albarado, a Kentucky-based jockey who summers in Saratoga. "It was an honor for me to pick up little things that he did, patience and the way he's versatile by riding different horses. He doesn't ride them all the same way. Just his demeanor in the jocks' room, he's kind of an ambassador to our sport.''

Jerry Bailey, who is second in all-time money won with just over $286 million, called Day "a class act" and noted Day's influence when he races against other young riders.

"I've noticed that the majority of young riders out of Kentucky have his type of style, so I think he had a profound influence on young riders," Bailey said.

Day will reveal his future plans at his press conference on Thursday. Albarado has an idea what Day could do next.

"He could probably run for governor in Kentucky and win, that's how popular he is there," Albarado said.

Leading jockeys

By wins

Laffit Pincay Jr.48,4869,530
Russell Baze*40,8529,036
Bill Shoemaker40,3508,833
Pat Day40,2988,803
David A. Gall41,7757,396

By earnings

Pat Day$297,912,019
Jerry Bailey*286,352,268
Chris McCarron263,985,505
Laffit Pincay Jr.237,120,625
Gary Stevens*217,405,199

Through Aug. 2
* Active rider