04/21/2003 12:00AM

Sellers stays positive through his slump


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Three years ago, Shane Sellers said, "I might have been throwing water buckets all over the place," if his win percentage had been as low as it has been throughout the Keeneland spring meet. Into the final three-day stretch of the meet, which ends Friday, Sellers had ridden three winners from 50 mounts - and those totals are padded by a two-win day Saturday.

But forget the flying water buckets. Sellers, an eight-time leading rider at Keeneland, said his attitude has changed dramatically since returning last fall from a career-threatening knee injury. Before suffering the first major injury of his career, Sellers was widely known for being very temperamental. But he has gained a new perspective on life after having been sidelined for so long.

"I'm not whining," Sellers said. "I'm still very content with myself. This has actually been a good test for my attitude."

Sellers said the Keeneland riding colony "is the toughest in the country, period," which partly accounts for what has been a disappointing meet for him. "We're also still trying to get back out there and making some trainers want me again."

Sellers, 36, was at his career peak when he was injured in a post-parade accident at Fair Grounds in December 2000. His mounts earned over $14.8 million that year, third highest in North America. After one short-lived comeback in 2001, Sellers returned last fall with mixed results before picking up steam at the Fair Grounds meet, which ended March 31. Despite his subpar April, Sellers still ranks in the top 25 jockeys this year in North America in both wins and earnings.

"The bottom line is I feel like there's no doubt I'll get back to where I was before," Sellers said. "It's just going to take a little more time. In the meantime, I'm keeping my head about me and keeping a positive attitude."

Heading into the final week of the meet, Pat Day holds a 14-13 lead over Robby Albarado atop the jockey standings. Day already has won a record 20 Keeneland meet titles.

Mineshaft scares off rivals

Mineshaft appears to be scaring away the opposition for one of the closing day feature races at Keeneland, the $100,00 Ben Ali Stakes. Stakes coordinator Dan Bork said he is having a difficult time finding many horses to oppose Mineshaft, who won the New Orleans Handicap in his most recent start.

Trainer Neil Howard said he needs the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali as a steppingstone from the New Orleans to the next major stop on Mineshaft's agenda, the Grade 1 Pimlico Special. The Special will be run May 16, the day before the Preakness.

"I gave him a real brief freshening after New Orleans, knowing I could run him in the Ben Ali before we went to Pimlico," Howard said. "Usually Keeneland tries to make their stakes go, but you never know."

Bork said he has secured American Style and X Country as Ben Ali opponents for Mineshaft, and hopes to have as many as six horses in the field.

The Ben Ali will be co-featured on a 10-race Friday card with the $175,000 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings, a Grade 1 steeplechase.

Midas Eyes top name in Derby Trial

Churchill officials are trying to get a few more horses to oppose Midas Eyes in the opening-day feature race, Saturday's $150,000 Derby Trial.

Besides Midas Eyes, the likely starters for the one-mile Trial are Champali, Posse, Private Gold, and Cat Singer.

"We're trying to get it up to seven or eight," said Churchill racing secretary Doug Bredar.

Bredar, incidentally, just recently got over a severe case of the chicken pox. Now in his second year at Churchill, Bredar said he experienced high fever, migraine headaches, and other unpleasantries when he came down with what is normally a childhood disease.

"It's a pretty bad thing to get as an adult," Bredar said.

Cooksey on the mend

Patricia Cooksey, the jockey who suffered multiple leg fractures in an April 12 spill at Keeneland, returned home Friday evening after a six-day hospital stay to begin her long recuperation period, said her husband, John Neal.

"She's actually doing real well," said Neal, the head outrider at Churchill. "She's mostly staying in bed but getting around a little on a walker. It's going to be about four weeks before she goes into serious rehab. The doctors said that would take 12-14 weeks, and then she'd be reevaluated."

In the meantime, Cooksey will be part of the broadcast team during Kentucky Derby weekend for the local NBC-TV affiliate, WAVE-3, Neal said.

Cooksey, 45, suffered a severe fracture in her left femur and fractures in her right leg in the spill. She has not yet decided whether her riding career is finished, Neal said. Cooksey trails only Julie Krone as the all-time winningest female jockey in North American racing history.