04/04/2004 11:00PM

Romero's desire to ride unfazed by near-fatal injuries


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Were he not so dedicated, jockey Hector Romero Jr. would be losing his apprentice allowance during the Bay Meadows meeting, which opens Wednesday.

Romero showed talent last year, winning 18 races.

No. 18 was the biggest, an $84.80 upset aboard the maiden Classic Fool in the Governor's Handicap Aug. 23 at the State Fair in Sacramento.

Romero, who was commuting daily from his home in the Bay Area, had only one mount the next day and was tempted to ask to be replaced, but instead he drove the more than 100 miles to ride.

"It was too far to come for one horse," he said. "But I wanted to ride, and the horse looked like he'd be the favorite."

Crafty M.D., the second choice in the $3,200 claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs, broke down. Romero sustained a punctured long, lacerated liver, and a broken rib. He also lost his spleen and a kidney, and was in critical condition.

"I was still conscious when people got to me," he said. "They asked me what was hurt, and the only thing I remember is I said, 'Everything.' "

Romero was hospitalized for two months in Sacramento. When he was released, Romero, his wife and young son went to Romero's family home in Southern California.

"Four days after that, I had another emergency operation," he said. "I was bleeding out of my mouth one night. My wife turned over and felt blood and couldn't wake me up, so she and my family took me to the hospital."

There was never a doubt in Romero's mind that he would ride again, although family, friends, and doctors did not encourage him.

"From the day I was born, my dream was to be a jockey" he said. "Since Day 1 of my recovery, I've been trying always to get back to riding."

During his recuperation, he tried to improve mentally as well as physically.

"I'm on my exercise horse almost 24/7," he said. "Three days after my second surgery, I was on the horse. My mother would walk in and see me on the horse and say, 'You really do want to go back.' "

Romero had 10 months remaining as an apprentice when he was injured. The stewards granted him a 10-month extension on his apprentice allowance upon his return.

Romero taped the races in Southern California and would watch them aboard his exercise horse.

"I recorded the races at night and played them over and over," he said. "I'd watch and ride and pretend I was David Flores or Alex Solis or Kent Desormeaux."

Romero has exercised horses for three weeks and hopes to get his first mount this week.

Jacot wins quickly

Joe Jacot went to the winner's circle last Friday with the first horse he saddled as a trainer in six years. Stromacomin won an $8,000 maiden claimer by five lengths.

"When Bryan Webb retired in the last part of 1996, I took over for him," Jacot said. "I trained all of '97 and early in '98, but I got down to four or five not-good horses so I went to work for Jerry Hollendorfer. I figured I'd get another shot."

Jacot was Hollendorfer's assistant for six years and moved to Armando Lage's barn at the start of the Golden Gate Fields meeting.

Jacot currently has seven horses and would like to expand to around 15.

'Ema' horse of meet

Ema Bovary, who won a pair of sprint stakes before moving on to a graded stakes victory at Santa Anita, was named top female, top sprinter, and horse of the meeting for the just-concluded Golden Gate Fields meeting. Ema Bovary is scheduled to run Wednesday in the seven-furlong Madison at Keeneland.

House of Fortune, a 17-length winner in the California Oaks, was named the top 3-year-old with Kilgowan, winner of the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, the top 3-year-old male. Gold Ruckus was named the top older horse, Tronare the top turf horse, Motel Staff the top claimer, Skipaslew top 2-year-old, and Wildwood Flower top 2-year-old filly. John Martin was voted the top trainer and leading rider Kevin Radke the top jockey. Jerry Hollendorfer won his 24th straight Golden Gate training title with Radke ending Russell Baze's long run as leading jockey.

At a glance: Bay Meadows

RACING SCHEDULE: 55 days - April 7-June 20. Dark Mondays and Tuesdays except May 31. Dark on June 2

POST TIME: 12:45 p.m. April 7-18; 1 p.m. April 21-June 20; 7:20 p.m. Fridays April 23 and May7-June 18

Highlights: April 24, $150,000 Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile; May 8, $125,000 Grade 3 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap; May 31, $100,000 Grade 3 Seabiscuit Breeders' Cup Handicap; June 19, $125,000 Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint

ADMISSIONS: $3 grandstand; $6 clubhouse; $10 turf club weekdays; $15 turf club Friday nights, weekend, holidays

PARKING: $4 general; $7 valet

LOCATION: 2600 S. Delaware St., San Mateo, CA.

PHONE: (650) 574-7223

INTERNET: www.baymeadows.com