10/31/2002 12:00AM

Sellers happy to be able to do what he loves


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Sure, winning for the first time in more than a year was great. But for Shane Sellers, the mundane aspects of being a jockey again are the greatest joys of his latest comeback.

"Just being back in the jocks' room with all the guys, that's special," said Sellers. "It's what I've done my whole life, and it's what I missed the most when I was gone."

For Sellers, the last 22-plus months have been troubled ones for obvious reasons: The only way of life he ever knew had been snatched from him. For more than 18 years he had ridden without a major injury, but then his career seemingly was over in the blink of an eye, the result of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee suffered in a post-parade incident at Fair Grounds on Dec. 9, 2000.

Sellers tried to shrug off his tough luck, saying it was the hand he had been dealt, that the nature of his dangerous profession finally had caught up with him. At the same time, he strived mightily to return to riding; he had a short-lived comeback in the summer of 2001 but found the pain in his knee to be overwhelming. He then went through a grueling rehabilitation program last spring, only to delay his comeback because of continuing pain in the knee and because reducing to riding weight had become so difficult.

Yet there he was Wednesday, beaming in the aftermath of a nine-length victory aboard heavily favored Uncommon Queen in the sixth race at Churchill Downs.

The win was his first - and came with just his sixth mount - since he began riding again Oct. 23 at Keeneland, and his first since he won the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Arlington Park on Sept. 8, 2001.

"One thing about it, I didn't forget how to ride a race," said Sellers. "It's like riding a bike."

Sellers said he has started slowly in his comeback. "I'm under the microscope. I'm just trying to pick some live horses and show that I still have it," Sellers said. "The main thing is that my knee is all right, and I made the decision to ride through the pain. I'm always going to have the pain, but I know it's nothing I can't handle, and I'm excited about that."

In recent years, Sellers, 36, had become a viable challenger to Pat Day, the acknowledged kingpin of the Kentucky circuit. His career was at its peak when he injured his knee, and now is seeking to get back to square one.

The victory on Uncommon Queen came for trainer Frank Brothers, his longtime client and friend. Sellers and Brothers attained great acclaim in 1997 when teaming with Pulpit, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes and one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby that year.

"We had great success together before, and hopefully we'll have it again," said Brothers. "I know I've missed him."

Sellers has won more than 3,700 races, including wins in two Breeders' Cup races. He rode in the Kentucky Derby 11 straight years (1990-2000) before the streak ended because of the injury.

"I missed riding every day," he said. "I love the game, so it's only natural that I missed it as bad as I did."

Longshot gray wires Gray Ghost

As soon as the field of seven was sprung from the gate in the fourth race Thursday, a racegoer yelled in mock excitement, "Go gray horse!"

A few dozen people around him laughed in unison for an obvious reason: All seven horses in the race were gray or roan, a condition for taking part in the Gray Ghost purse, a $20,000 starter-allowance written especially for the Halloween holiday by racing secretary Doug Bredar.

The one-mile race was won by front-running Unpeteable, a 15-1 shot ridden by Eddie Martin Jr. Unpeteable, a 5-year-old gelding by Peteski, is trained by Dennis Edwards, who has a five-horse string at Turfway Park. "This was great," an ecstatic Edwards said after the race.

Steel Petal, the 2-5 favorite under Pat Day, pressed Unpeteable most of the way before tiring to finish third behind Artistic Design.

* The Iroquois Stakes, the colt-and-gelding counterpart to the Pocahontas, has shaped up as an excellent race, with at least 10 horses under consideration for the Sunday feature. Posse, with Donnie Meche to ride, and Private Gold, with Pat Day up, are the likely favorites in the Iroquois. Other probables for the one-mile, Grade 3 race are Alke, Boston Park, Champali, Country Judge, Larry B, Mr. Whitestone, Tito's Beau, and What a Bad Day.

* Perfect Drift, the last-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Classic, came out of the race in good shape and probably will run back in the richest race of the Churchill meet, the $400,000 Clark Handicap on Nov. 29, said trainer Murray Johnson.

* Christmas Away, a sharp winner of the Wednesday feature, will run next in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on closing day, Nov. 30, said trainer Pat Byrne.