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Phase II has some on move
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After the spring meet ends at Churchill Downs, many trainers simply stay put for the duration of the summer and early fall, content to van their active runners to tracks operating in this region.
When a stable actually leaves for another track, the destination normally is Saratoga, Arlington, or Ellis Park. But at least three trainers have plotted a different course for this summer: Walt Bindner Jr. is taking 14 horses to Woodbine in Canada, while Morris Nicks and Terry Brennan are moving their stables to Louisiana Downs.
Bindner said several factors were involved in his decision, most notably the revised training schedule at Churchill after the meet ends July 6. Because of a tight work schedule involving the demolition of the clubhouse, which will begin soon after the meet ends, Churchill will limit training to two hours, 4:30 to 6:30 a.m., on Mondays and Tuesdays.
"I just didn't want to be here this summer, with all that going on," said Bindner. "Maybe it's what we should all be doing anyway - going somewhere."
Noting the infusion of slot machine revenue into purses, he said, "Plus the money's great at Woodbine now, and their grass course is world-class. I've got some grass horses who should fit well up there."
Both Nicks and Brennan have homes in Hot Springs, Ark., which is a little more than a two-hour drive from Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.
"If you think about it, you're putting horses on vans for almost four months after the meet ends here," said Nicks, referring to the resumption of live racing at Churchill in late October. "Other than during the winter, I don't get a chance to get home that often. This is a good time for me to take advantage of all the change that's going on around here."
Doug Bredar, racing secretary at Churchill and Ellis, said he has seen a bit more interest this year from Churchill trainers for stall space at Ellis, the Henderson, Ky., track that begins a 41-day meet July 9. As an example, trainer Steve Margolis said that in normal years he might stay at Churchill, but because of the demolition and odd training hours, he will have all 18 of his horses at Ellis.
The demolition essentially begins the second phase of the $121 million renovation project that began last year at Churchill. Some preparations are already being made for tearing down the clubhouse, which will be replaced by a state-of-the-art facility scheduled for use by the 2005 spring meet.
The next three meets (2003 fall, and 2004 spring and fall) at Churchill figure to be trying ones for fans and company officials alike. Churchill already has announced that the nearby Trackside simulcast annex will remain open during those live meets.
Albarado to summer at Saratoga
After a three-year hiatus, jockey Robby Albarado is headed back to Saratoga. Agent Lenny Pike Jr. said the decision to return hinged on the volume of business he has with trainers such as Neil Howard, whose stable star, Mineshaft, is ridden by Albarado.
"We're sticking close to the people who have made this a great year for us so far," said Pike.
Albarado rode at Saratoga for three straight summers (1997-99), then briefly rode at Del Mar in 2000. The last two years, he rode with considerable success at Arlington Park.
Albarado is one of at least four Churchill jockeys headed to Saratoga, which begins July 23. Pat Day, Cornelio Velasquez and Shane Sellers also plan to ride there.
Day making road trips
Day, the perennial Churchill kingpin who through 34 of 52 days at the spring meet trailed leader Cornelio Velasquez by eight wins (36-28), will miss at least two upcoming days of action here. On Sunday, he will ride the Bill Mott-trained Del Mar Show in the King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap at Woodbine. Next Saturday, he will be at Lone Star Park to ride Sharbayan for trainer Wally Dollase in the $250,000 Dallas Turf Cup.
Day, who will turn 50 in October, has been leading rider at the last seven spring meets and 12 of the last 14.
Through Thursday, Albarado was second behind Velasquez with 30 wins. Day was third.
Morguelan on the mend
Veteran trainer Steve Morguelan, who dispersed his public stable in April when he learned he had pancreatic cancer, continues to recover at his Louisville home after undergoing six hours of surgery May 6.
Morguelan said his surgeon, horse owner Dr. David Richardson, informed him the surgery was highly successful and that he should be able to make a full recovery. Morguelan has not had to undergo any postoperative treatment.
"I'm feeling better every day," said Morguelan, 53. "I've gotten a lot of support from people at the racetrack. I don't have any set time for when I'll come back, but I'm hoping for maybe sometime early in the fall."
Cooksey recovering well
Nine weeks after suffering fractures in both legs, jockey Patti Cooksey also is making a remarkable recovery.
Cooksey, 45, is walking with use of a cane and has a metallic rod implanted in her thighbone, but she otherwise appears well on her way to a full recovery, which seems amazing in light of the severe injuries that resulted from a frightening spill April 12 at Keeneland.
Last week, Cooksey had surgery to remove one of the screws that facilitated the healing process in one of the breaks. Her husband, Churchill's head outrider John Neal, said no decision has been made about if or when Cooksey will return to riding.
"I don't want to know," Neal said with a smile.
* Wednesday is supposed to be the Churchill debut of James Graham, a 21-year-old apprentice from Ireland. Agent Steve Elzey has recruited Graham to begin riding on the Kentucky circuit, where a void exists now that John McKee has lost his apprenticeship.
* Veteran jockey Sidney LeJeune Jr., who tied for leading rider with Orlando Mojica at the inaugural Indiana Downs meet, will ride at Churchill the rest of the meet. Lejeune is represented by agent Ron Mullis.
* With four stakes and three allowances having been carded here Saturday, about all that was left over for the Sunday card were two allowance races, including the co-featured ninth, a $43,500 turf marathon for 3-year-olds and upward. Named the Father's Day Special, it attracted an overflow field of 15; only 12 can start.