07/01/2004 11:00PM

Plan to raise funds for disabled riders is stalled

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CHICAGO - A core group of jockeys at Arlington is continuing to push a plan that would raise money for disabled former riders, and some Arlington riders could be wearing sponsored advertising patches during races this weekend. But the plan continues to meet resistance, and its main initial sponsor, the prominent owner Frank Calabrese, still has not fully committed to participate.

Five veteran riders based at Arlington have tried to revive a plan originally devised by the national Jockeys' Guild in the spring of 2003, wherein businesses or individuals would buy advertising space on a jockey's riding apparel, with the proceeds going directly to the Disabled Jockeys Fund. That fund, administered by the Guild, supports riders disabled by racing accidents.

The Arlington riders, Earlie Fires, Jerry LaSala, Randy Meier, Ray Sibille, and Carlos Silva, have emphasized that 100 percent of sponsorship money would go toward charity. The national plan bogged down last year for several reasons, including efforts by individuals to profit from sponsorship.

Locally, some owners and trainers have weighed in against their horses carrying the logo of Calabrese's printing business, though Arlington itself has said it will allow the plan to go forward. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association canvassed its membership to gauge support for the jockeys' plan and found widespread acceptance, according to Sibille and Joe Kasperski, president of the ITHA. Sibille said an agreement has been reached whereby owners or trainers who choose not to participate can opt out of the plan. Jockeys who ride these horses will not wear patches.

All Arlington jockeys except leading rider Rene Douglas have agreed to wear the patches, the group of riders said.

Calabrese originally had pledged to put forth a generous donation, and Sibille said riding pants with patches bearing his logo have been readied for use. But as of Friday, Calabrese still was uncertain whether the idea would go ahead this weekend.

"I understand there still are some legal issues," Calabrese said. Asked if he still intended to support the riders financially, he said, "Definitely. It has to get worked out so there's no controversy."

Miller tacks on more duties

He has quickly become a ubiquitous presence at Hawthorne Race Course, but even that is not enough for Jim Miller. Miller, just 28, was named assistant general manager at Hawthorne this spring. But even as he was being promoted, he was arriving at the track before dawn to serve as one of the racetrack's official clockers. And late last month, he turned in his clocker's license to become a certified jockey agent, taking the book of the apprentice rider Liz Morris.

"I love what I'm doing," Miller said.

Miller latched on at Arlington when he still was in high school, working in guest relations and publicity. His racetrack life was interrupted, however, by a professional baseball career. Pitching in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Miller rose as high as class AA before stalling out. That was in 2000, and he did not wait long to get back to horse racing. At Hawthorne, he was named publicity director, a job that began spreading out to the point that general manager Thomas Carey bumped Miller up this spring. Carey, Miller said, also gave his blessing to this summer's second career.

"He was very supportive of the idea, and that helped," Miller said.

Morris has two mounts Sunday, and her business is not likely to explode anytime soon. Even so, Miller will continue to drive to Arlington at dawn, line up a few mounts for his jockey, then head off to Hawthorne for a summer harness meet that soon gets underway.

"I can't seem to get enough of this stuff," he said.

Douglas on track for another title

It has turned fully to summer, and Churchill Downs is about to close, bringing a surge of Kentucky-based horses to Arlington Park. Already, Rene Douglas is on the move. Douglas, who is trying for a record fourth straight riding title at Arlington, tends to start meets slowly and build momentum through the summer, and after a couple of strong weeks, he has opened up daylight on the field. Through Wednesday's races, Douglas had 38 wins, eight more than Cruz Contreras, who is in the midst of a five-day suspension. Douglas, who rides the likely favorite in both graded stakes here this weekend, already is approaching $1 million in purses at the meet.