02/22/2002 1:00AM

Sellers blames weights for Romero's health woes

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Shane Sellers, a former riding champion at Gulfstream Park, said Friday that while his fund-raising efforts on behalf of ailing Randy Romero are going well, he is disturbed by the circumstances that have put Romero and other jockeys in peril.

Romero, who lives in Louisville, Ky., is awaiting a kidney transplant. Sellers already has raised more than $25,000 on his behalf and is directly involved in the planning of fund-raisers at several tracks.

"It's about time somebody said something about how riders having to pull weight has gone too far," said Sellers.

Sellers, speaking from his home in Louisville, said the scale of weights, which requires jockeys to reduce so rigorously, needs to be restructured. Sellers noted that while jockeys in Southern California typically ride at 117 or 118 pounds, virtually all other circuits continue to require jockeys to ride at about 112 pounds.

"Athletes in other sports are bigger, stronger, and heavier, and we're still living in the past," said Sellers.

The Jockeys' Guild, which represents most top North American jockeys, long has espoused an across-the-board raise in daily weight assignments.

Romero, 45, rode for some 25 years and won nearly 4,300 races. He quit his job as a jockey agent last month after his kidney condition worsened and is currently undergoing dialysis. Romero has said his constant battle with weight most likely resulted in his current condition.

Sellers said he has no doubt that Romero's struggles to reduce are at the root of his kidney problems. "What other sport has a sign on one of their toilet doors that says, 'Heavers'?" he asked. "It's bulimia is what it is. We're the only athletes that have to go through that. Then you're pulling another four or five pounds in the hot box. It's absurd.

"The riders have been put on the back-burner long enough. I love horse racing, but I love my fellow riders even more."

Meanwhile, Sellers said owners and trainers such as Mace Siegel, Barry Golden, John Franks, Alex Campbell, and Phil Marino have made contributions to Romero's transplant fund. Such an operation, and all related procedures, typically costs at least $200,000.

Sellers said he has received notification from Fair Grounds, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Arlington Park that they plan to raise funds for Romero, who rode regularly at those tracks during much of his career.

Sellers, whose riding career is on hold after he suffered a severe knee injury in December 2000, said he would like to have a benefit concert at Gulfstream, but nothing has been finalized. Sellers has become an accomplished country-music singer since being sidelined.

In recent years, Gulfstream has developed a weekend concert series, featuring such acts as The Commodores, America, Foghat, Kansas, and other popular bands from the 1970's and 1980's. Track president Scott Savin said Friday that he gave Sellers the option of opening for one of the main acts but that a separate benefit in one of the track's smaller areas, such as the Orchid Club, would be more appropriate. "That way we could invite all the horsemen and make a concentrated effort to raise the money," said Savin.

Romero's mounts earned more than $75 million, but he also endured 21 operations, including several following a horrific accident in the Oaklawn Park hot-box in 1983. In his later years, he was deemed uninsurable and therefore has no insurance coverage for his current condition.

Donations can be sent to the Randy Romero Transplant Fund, c/o National City Bank, 12009 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, Ky., 40243.