08/22/2001 12:00AM

Sellers returns four months early


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - On Thursday night, jockey Shane Sellers will be honored at the Travers Ball as part of the team that won last year's Midsummer Derby with Unshaded. That is the last time Sellers plans to look back.

After that, Sellers will concentrate solely on the future, a future that includes a return to the saddle beginning Saturday when he rides Momentous in the $75,000 Prairie Meadows Oaks in Iowa. It will be Sellers's first mount since suffering a severe knee injury last Dec. 9 at Fair Grounds.

Wednesday morning, Sellers was in Saratoga working horses for trainers Steve Asmussen and Ronny Werner. The smile he flashed as he dismounted from Soup Line, a maiden juvenile filly trained by Werner, told the story of how excited Sellers is to be back.

When asked if he thought he would make it back, the 34-year-old Sellers said, "Up until three weeks ago, no, I really didn't. I was trying to be optimistic. It's amazing what happened in the last three weeks, just getting on horses. It was probably the best rehabilitation I could have done. I'm just excited, I really am."

On Dec. 9, Sellers was thrown and kicked by his mount Hike following the post parade of a race at Fair Grounds. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament and suffered severe cartilage damage in his left knee. Following surgery and an intense rehabilitation program, Sellers returns four months ahead of schedule.

"There's still a little bit of pain, but the doctor said it's going to get better, it's not going to get worse," Sellers said. "I could give it a month and come back with no pain at all, but it's not hindering my performance."

Sellers will ride Momentous on Saturday and then ride a horse for Frank Brothers in the Bassinet Stakes on Sept. 1 at River Downs, a race for Carl Bowman on Sept. 2 at Prairie Meadows and the $200,000 Cradle Stakes at River Downs on Sept. 3 for Pat Byrne. Sellers plans to make Arlington his base until Keeneland opens in October.

"I'd come back on anyone, a $5,000 claimer if I had to," Sellers said. "But to have the opportunity to go and ride live horses in stakes off an eight-month layoff makes me realize that there are people in the game that still believe in my ability."

Before his injury, Sellers was enjoying one of the best years of his career. In 2000, he won 192 races from 1,108 mounts and his mounts earned $14,881,680, third best in the country. One of his biggest wins came in the 2000 Travers when he rallied Unshaded through the Saratoga stretch to nip Albert the Great by a head.

"To beat a horse like Albert the Great, run him down through the stretch on a speed bias racetrack in Saratoga - class horses are hard to catch on the lead - it was a phenomenal race," Sellers said.

To start, Sellers will be represented by Dennis Cooper, who also serves as the agent for Rene Douglas. However, Sellers said he would like to have a new agent by the time Keeneland opens.

Sellers also returns with a new attitude. "What I did in the past, good and bad, is in the past," Sellers said. "To me I'm starting all over. I'm excited to get the negatives in my career in my past and mend some of the bridges I burned and show people that there are things I still want to accomplish in this game and I still believe in this game."

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