08/04/2005 12:00AM

Patient Pat was a master


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Some racetrackers get stuck with an inappropriate nickname their entire career, but the two that stuck to the jockey whose mounts have earned more than anyone else's in racing history always fit: Pat (Pay) Day, and Pat (Wait All) Day.

The 51-year-old Day, who made his official retirement announcement Thursday at Churchill Downs, won 8,803 races and his mounts earned $297.9 million. He has fewer victories but higher earnings than Laffit Pincay and Bill Shoemaker, despite riding mostly in Kentucky rather than California, because Pay Day was the quintessential "money rider," the go-to guy in the best and richest races in Kentucky, New York, or wherever the Breeders' Cup was being held.

He is the only jockey to have ridden in 21 straight Kentucky Derbies, a streak that ended amid injury only this year. He won just one of them, on Lil E. Tee, but had five Preaknesses, three Belmonts, and a dozen Breeders' Cup victories. His fingerprints are all over any major race in America. Saturday's two Grade 1 races are at Saratoga: the Whitney, which he won five times, and the Test, which he won three times, as early as 1976 and as recently as 2000.

Many a payday came because he was chilly and confident enough to wait all day when necessary. This could be exasperating when you bet him on a closer who didn't quite get there, and some New Yorkers still grind their teeth remembering his perhaps too-late moves aboard Java Gold in the 1987 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Easy Goer in the 1989 Breeders' Cup Classic.

On front-runners, though, his patience was often a thing of beauty. He once won an otherwise forgettable Gulfstream turf stakes aboard a filly that generated the most unusual-looking running line you will ever see: first after a half-mile, first after six furlongs, eighth after a mile when he let the whole overeager field run past him, and first at the finish after he rallied past them all in the stretch with a fresh horse.

As recently as June 18 he was still at it. In the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs, he was riding Two Trail Sioux, a front-running filly who had gotten barbequed in a speed duel last time out and who is always a shaky proposition when challenged. Day shot her out to a clear lead, then just sat and sat while the field closed in on her in upper stretch. Two Trail Sioux looked like a cinch to get swallowed and finish off the board, but Day was just waiting as long as possible to ask her for one more burst. When he did, she had enough left to take off again and hold on for the victory.

It was his final stakes masterpiece, yet he cited it as one of the events in his decision to retire.

"I really think the defining moment was when Wally Dollase put me on Two Trail Sioux in the Fleur de Lis," Day said at his press conference Thursday. "She ran a remarkable race and got the victory. The thrill of victory that day was decidedly less than what I anticipated and that really set me into some soul searching."

For anyone who bet on Two Trail Sioux that day, though, there was plenty of thrill in an unexpected victory that few if any other riders could have pulled off.

Putting Ashado's career in perspective

Ashado's 9 1/2-length victory in last Sunday's Go for Wand here was the first real blowout of the 4-year-old filly's somewhat underappreciated career, which is emerging as a truly remarkable one.

Ashado won her debut on June 17, 2003, and has since run in 17 consecutive graded stakes races, winning 10 of them, including six Grade 1's: the Spinaway at 2; the Kentucky Oaks, CCA Oaks, and Breeders' Cup Distaff at 3; and the Ogden Phipps and Go for Wand at 4.

The victory in the Go for Wand raised her career earnings to $3.2 million, putting her fifth on the all-time filly or mare list, and she has a decent chance to break Azeri's record of $4.02 million before she is retired and sold at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, with scheduled starts in the Ruffian, Beldame, and Breeders' Cup Distaff still ahead.

Ashado has never been a flashy or brilliant runner, and many a horseplayer has taken a beating trying to be a smart aleck about her unspectacular speed figures and typically narrow margins of victory. Yet her resume has grown into a model of sustained excellence and achievement unmatched by any other American racehorse over the last three years. It is the stuff with which Hall of Fame plaques are inscribed.