12/31/2004 1:00AM

Sarvis runs away with meet jockey title

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Dean Sarvis closed out the holiday meet at Turfway on Friday by easily winning his first riding title there. It was the second title of 2004 for the veteran jockey, who rode a record 167 winners at River Downs during the summer.

Sarvis finished the meet with 39 winners, 15 more than second-place Ramsey Zimmerman.

Sarvis is widely considered the favorite to top the winter-spring meeting at Turfway, which begins Saturday and continues until April 7.

Juan Molina Jr. was the meet's leading apprentice. A teenager from Puerto Rico, he had the most successful meeting of his short career, finishing in a tie for fifth place with Willie Martinez. Molina won 13 races from 113 mounts.

Molina's first victory came Sept. 16, when he guided Quiero Saber de Ti to victory in a maiden claiming race at Calder.

Unlike the jockeys' race - which Sarvis dominated virtually from start to finish - the race for leading trainer ended in a dead heat. Trainers Wayne Mogge, Bernie Flint, and George Leonard III had seven winners apiece.

Two of Flint's winners came in stakes: Discreet Hero won the Prairie Bayou, and Angel Trumpet took the Gowell.

Track handles freeze-and-thaw conditions

In a favorable change from years past, the Turfway track held up from weather changes during the holiday meet. Only two days of racing were canceled. The cancellations came following heavy snow Christmas week.

In the past, the track surface had struggled to maintain its consistency under thawing conditions following snow and freezing rain. But that proved little obstacle this year.

"We lucked out with the big storm," racing secretary Rick Leigh said. "[At past meets] it always seemed like the snow would fall when we were racing, and it would get down in the track when we'd have to harrow it. This time we weren't racing, and we were able to let it fall and scrape it off."

The addition of sand may have also contributed to the track surface recovering well, Leigh said.

Overnight handicaps added to schedule

Leigh said few changes are in order for the winter-spring meet, aside from some overnight handicaps being added to the schedule. These overnight events, $35,000 races for Kentucky-breds, do not have the necessary purses to qualify for black type.

Leigh said he added the races to fill a void for upper-level allowance horses, who often struggle to get into races when such contests fail to fill.

Overnight handicaps have proved popular at other Kentucky tracks - including at Ellis Park, which, like Turfway, did not have the money necessary to qualify the races as black-type stakes. For a race to offer black type, it must carry a purse of at least $40,000.

Two overnight handicaps are planned in January, with the first scheduled for Jan. 14. Nominations for that race, the Polar Expedition at a mile, close Jan. 7.

American Thunder has slight edge in class

Sunday's card at Turfway - the second day of its winter-spring meet - is a typical winter program, filled mostly with claiming and maiden claiming races. The one allowance on the nine-race card is the eighth race, a $25,400 entry-level allowance for older horses at 6 1/2 furlongs.

The bulk of the field is made up of former claimers, with eight of the 10 entrants having raced for a tag at some point in their careers.

One of the few with favorable allowance experience is American Thunder, a 4-year-old American Chance gelding owned by Terry Raymond and trained by Jeff Talley. Three times in 2004 he was second in first-level allowances, twice at Arlington and once at Churchill Downs.

His two efforts at Turfway in late 2004 were not as strong, though he ran competitively. He was third behind Prize Story in a fast allowance Dec. 5 and followed that with a fourth-place finish behind Strong Cat in another quick race Dec. 18.

He benefits from not having to face any of the three horses who finished in front of him Dec. 18. The winner, Strong Cat, is no longer eligible for an entry-level allowance, nor is third-place finisher Eroberer, who came back to win a Dec. 29 allowance by 6 1/2 lengths. Second-place Haiaccept was not entered.

This leaves American Thunder as the horse to beat. Rafael Mojica rides.

The opposition is led by Utah Sky, a half-length winner of a $30,000 nonwinners-of-two claiming race Dec. 19, and Hawking, a late-running colt who was claimed for $20,000 at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25.