11/12/2004 12:00AM

Some non-strike riders have prospered

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Fourteen jockeys at Churchill Downs, including some who are currently ranked among the top 10 in the standings, have been on strike since Wednesday, and are not expected to ride there again for the rest of the meet, which ends on Nov. 27. Should handicappers bet cautiously or pass altogether, as the balance of power shifts in the Churchill jockey colony?

I believe there is no reason to overreact. With change comes opportunity, so the best way to adapt is to check the early returns to see which riders are prospering as new trends emerge. A check of the results from Wednesday and Thursday shows that a few jockeys are benefiting more than others. As the last couple of weeks of this meet unfold, bettors who are keeping tabs on these trends will have an edge over those who aren't.

The early numbers:

Brian Hernandez Jr. had been settling for lots of second- and third-place finishes prior to the strike, with just 2 wins compared with 10 seconds and 8 thirds from 51 mounts. But in the two days since the strike began, he tripled his win total with four more victories. His win rate was a modest 4 percent before the strike, versus 21 percent in his first 19 rides once the strike began.

Prior to the strike, William Troilo had an 8 percent win rate with one victory from 12 mounts at this Churchill meet. His in-the-money success was 16 percent. Troilo did not ride on Wednesday, but when he rode for the first time since the strike on Thursday, he had 7 mounts and won with 2 of them (28 percent), paying $13.80, and $6.80. He also had a second and a third, for 57 percent in the money.

Eddie Martin Jr. had no wins from 15 mounts prior to the strike. But the quality of the horses he rode Wednesday and Thursday was much better than before. Martin capitalized, too, winning with 17 percent of his mounts - 3 winners from 17 post-strike rides. He also had 2 seconds and 2 thirds.

Larry Melancon won 2 of 20 races before the strike, but needed just 14 mounts to win two more races after the strike began. Among his winners was first-time starter Top Gate, who rallied from last of 10 to win going away at $29.

John McKee's win rate of 10 percent on Wednesday and Thursday was a bit lower than his 14 percent win rate prior to the strike, but he still made an impact with 2 wins, 4 seconds, and 3 thirds. Betting on him has been profitable, since one of his winners was a $61 longshot.

Brice Blanc was winning at a comparable rate (16 percent after the strike, versus 20 percent before), but his in-the-money percentage improved from 30 percent to 50 percent.

Pat Day also had some success, but not as much as might have been expected. Day won with 11 of 33 mounts prior to the strike, for an impressive 33 percent. Five of his nine post-strike mounts were 2-1 or less on the board, and he won with 2 of the 9, for 22 percent. But they paid just $4.60 and $3.60, for a $0.91 average return per $2 bet.