06/13/2002 12:00AM

Riders drawn to warm Rock


SALEM, N.H. - While top riders like Joe Hampshire and defending title-holder Winston Thompson figure to do well this meet at Rockingham Park, the unusually large size of the jockey colony means competition for mounts is going to be fierce this season.

Thirty riders have their tack in the the jockeys' room after one week of racing. That stands in marked contrast to the 16 jockeys who toughed it out during the deepest part of the winter at Suffolk Downs.

"There's a lot of different faces up here compared to Suffolk," said Hampshire. "Everybody needs a change, but the good thing here is the backside is just so big and there's so many people and horses here to support all of these guys. My business is consistent and I can pretty much count on some really great trainers, but there's also a real chance for some of these new kids to get an opportunity, and everybody deserves a chance."

Hampshire, Thompson, and Dodie Duys, who won three races on opening day last week, figure to be at or near the top of the standings all season. After that comes a strong group of journeymen, including Taylor Hole, Vernon Bush, former Woodbine rider Jeffrey Burningham, Dyn Panell, and Jill Jellison. Magali Mascarte and Luis I. Garcia also figure to be prominent after having spent the winter at Tampa Bay Downs.

"It is more difficult than in the winter," said Panell. "But the Rock is close to my home and you expect this when things get warmer. Everybody comes back."

"Even with all these guys, somebody like me can still get a shot," said Burningham. "Here you've still got a shot at one or two a day. At a place like Woodbine, you might get one or two a week."

Their are four apprentice riders shopping their weight allowances around the barn area.

"It's tough anywhere you go, but this seemed like a good place to give it a shot," said newcomer Vernon Scantling, who comes to New England after some success in Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia, and a stop at Colonial Downs, where he was second-leading apprentice last year. "I know the trainers want to see a lot more scooting in the morning. Coming up in Kentucky the jocks would only have to work three or four horses a day. Up here, you've got to do that plus plenty more galloping if you want to get mounts."

Scantling joins Helena Keaveney, who was granted an extension on her apprenticeship because of injuries earlier this year, Adrian Hernandez and Juan Almedina on the apprentice roster.

Tuesdays bolster Suffolk meet

A very mild winter and a departure from a traditional schedule produced a 54 percent average handle increase for Suffolk Downs this year.

By adding Tuesday racing and dropping Sundays, Suffolk's daily average handle surged to $1,003,353 mostly on the strength of a 63 percent growth in offtrack handle as Suffolk's Tuesday cards proved popular at simulcast locations.

All-sources total handle was $109,898,094, up 51 percent from 2001 when the track ran five fewer days because of cancellations. Average on-track handle was down 3 percent to $165,775 per day.

Suffolk did not track attendance figures over the entire meet.