12/12/2008 1:00AM

Riding at Turfway good move for young Meier


Brandon Meier has always been the racetrack equivalent of a gym rat. Tailing his father, jockey Randy Meier, from barn to barn on summer mornings in Chicago, Meier compiled a set of memories that he will always treasure, even as he has embarked on his own successful career as a jockey.

"Growing up, I was always around the racetrack, and it's all I've wanted to do," said Meier, 20. "But my dad said, 'I'd rather have you use your head than your back.' So we made a deal, that I'd go to college for a year before I could ride. I went a year to Northern Michigan University, and when I was done, I said, 'Okay, I'm ready to ride now.' "

The initial results have been good. Meier had a highly productive stint at his home track, Arlington Park, where he rode 58 winners, and following a brief and disappointing attempt at what he called "the big times" in Southern California, he has become a factor on the Kentucky circuit, where he currently tops the rider standings at the holiday meet at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.

Into Friday action at Turfway, Meier had ridden 12 winners, including a four-win night during the first full week of a meet that began Nov. 30.

"It feels great," Meier said Friday morning. "We've gotten off to a textbook start, basically. We had a pretty decent meet at Churchill Downs for just coming in and not many people really knowing me," as he rode five winners.

After Arlington, Meier tried the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, winning just twice from 23 mounts.

"It was very, very tough to get many opportunities," he said.

He then set his sights on Kentucky, figuring he rated an excellent chance to rank among the top riders during the four-plus months of winter racing at Turfway, especially with the benefit of his five-pound apprentice allowance.

Randy Meier, who remains active in Chicago, surpassed the 4,000-win milestone in the fall of 2007 and will always be the guiding force and inspiration for his son. By his own count, Randy Meier, 54, has suffered 49 significant injuries in a riding career spanning nearly four decades.

"People always say, 'Look at the injuries your dad's had,' and I say that I realize it's a big part of the game, because it's not like I haven't taken care of him when he's been hurt," said Brandon Meier. "I know what's involved. But I've also seen how happy he is when he's had those good days. I've seen the glory of winning."

And as the winter at Turfway continues to unfold, he will continue to feel that glory with each winning mount.

Turfway purses remain intact

Turfway president Bob Elliston said in a Dec. 5 meeting with horsemen's representatives that wagering from "some sources" is showing a positive trend and that purses will not have to be cut in the foreseeable future, despite rumors to the contrary.

Horsemen and management meet periodically at Turfway throughout the winter to discuss various issues of importance, including maintenance of the Polytrack surface.

Colleagues pitch in to help fire victims

The horsemen who experienced devastating losses last month in the barn fire at the Riverside Downs training facility in western Kentucky have been receiving help from a number of sources, including the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Ellis Park, Turfway Park, and horsemen from Tennessee.

Saddles, bridles, halters, and cash have been donated to the handful of trainers who lost a combined 29 horses and virtually all of their equipment in the fire, which was the fourth in five years at Riverside in Henderson, Ky.

* The Churchill committee that will choose the next race-caller at the Louisville track was scheduled to have a lengthy meeting Friday "to go over a lot of the data and further discuss" which man will be selected from the five candidates who tried out at the fall meet, according to Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers. An announcement could be made soon but might also have to be put off until after the first of the year, said Rogers.

* With fewer than 200 horses remaining in the stable area, Churchill has switched to afternoon training hours (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) before shuttering for its traditional winter break. The last day of training will be Dec. 30, with most horses moving to Oaklawn Park or the Trackside training center until the stable area reopens in early March.

* Keeneland has e-mailed a survey form to fans and horsemen regarding the development of its master plan. The Lexington, Ky., track is asking its supporters to comment on a variety of topics regarding what would be a massive renovation aimed partly at landing the Breeders' Cup in future years. The survey is available at keeneland.com.