01/30/2004 1:00AM

Rowland's winter goal: Win No. 4,000


Most winter vacationers choose to head to southern states like Florida. Jockey Mike Rowland also went south - across the border, from Ohio to Kentucky.

Rowland, regularly among the leading riders at Thistledown in Cleveland is in the midst of a working vacation this winter at Turfway Park. Thursday, he rode in a snowstorm at Turfway, winning the first race aboard Royal Prophet. Then on Friday, with an evening temperature expected to fall to about 0 degrees, he expressed disappointment that Turfway had to cancel racing due to such extreme cold.

Having begun his riding career in Canada at Assiniboia Downs, in winnipeg, he knows cool weather. But his desire to not miss a day in the saddle is largely motivated by the pursuit of a riding milestone - his 4,000th winner.

"It's something I'm really looking forward to," said Rowland, 40, a jockey for 24 years.

According to the latest Equibase statistics, Rowland drew within three winners of 4,000 Thursday evening, and he says he felt he had a strong chance to win a couple of more races Friday night. Among his scheduled mounts for Friday was Distinctive Blues, a horse trained by his wife of nine years, Tammy Rowland.

Rowland will ride at Turfway until racing resumes at Thistledown on April 8.

His choice to ride at Turfway this winter was motivated by Tammy's decision to race her horses there. He figured he would ride for her, pick up an occasional mount, and get ready for Thistledown.

Soon after riding Lord Exitor to victory for Tammy on Jan. 3, he began being named to ride numerous other horses.

"All of a sudden, before I even got an agent, I had five horses in a day," he said.

Now Rowland is represented by agent Jamie Fowler, who also books mounts for another veteran rider, Perry Ouzts. Ouzts is one win away from 4,500 winners.

The Turfway meet has been good to Rowland. He won the Cincinnati Trophy Stakes on Stoneway on Jan. 17 and understandably enjoys riding and winning races for Tammy.

"People think when you're riding that you can hear the crowd, the announcer," Mike Rowland said. "You really can't hear anything. But you can hear my wife."

"I never want anybody else to ride my horses," said Tammy. "Even before we were married, I always thought he was a great rider. Now I think he's the best."

Hammond wins with 'average Joes'

Trainer Kim Hammond, who last year became the first woman in the 82-year history of Ellis Park to lead the trainer standings, has taken command in the trainer standings at Turfway. She has won 11 of 25 races since the winter-spring meet began Jan. 1.

Since most of her owners do not buy high-priced younger horses, Hammond's stable is filled with low- to mid-level claimers, runners she calls "average Joe horses."

Her training strategy is to watch which races are regularly written by the racing secretary and then acquire horses that suit those conditions - without duplicating the types of runners she already trains. In her words, "I try to fill holes."

Hammond's 25 starters this meet have been exceeded only by trainer Bernie Flint's 34 starters, and Hammond trains a 19-horse stable at Turfway.

Beyond strength in starts, Hammond attributes the stable's success to leading jockey Rafael Bejarano, who has ridden 10 of her 11 winners at Turfway since the start of the winter-spring meet. Together, the pair is 20-10-1-3 at Turfway this year and 78-28-13-12 overall.

Hammond's stable will expand to 50 or 60 claiming horses in the spring, split between two tracks: Indiana Downs and Fairmount Park. From there, she will head back to defend her training title at Ellis Park.