06/29/2002 12:00AM

Squartino's weight-watcher plan


MIAMI - It has been four years since Ric Squartino's riding career was sidetracked because of a weight problem, and the former jockey still tipped the scales at 140 pounds when he decided to attempt a comeback earlier this year.

Squartino has shed 25 pounds over the past three months and easily tacked the 118 pounds his mount Three Minute Call carried to a fifth-place finish in Saturday's second race at Calder Race Course. Squartino lost the weight in an unusual way: by working as a cook in a restaurant.

Squartino was working full time as a cook at the 84 Diner when his boss, Ty Ernst, and prominent local horse owner-breeder Ralph Sessa, a regular customer at the diner, persuaded him to make a comeback.

"I've been working for Ty on and off for six years now, and we've become pretty close friends during that time," Squartino said. "He was one of the biggest incentives toward getting me to ride again. So was my 10-year-old son, Stefano. He was too young to remember me when I rode regularly and he kept saying 'Dad, I want to see you be a jockey again.' "

Stefano was on the rail cheering for his father Saturday, when Squartino accepted mounts in three races, including Three Minute Call in the second for Sessa.

"Ralph comes into the diner all the time," said Squartino. "When he heard Ty and I talking about me possibly riding again he told me to come out to his farm and go to work for him.

"I was galloping about two and a half months before I was able to accept my first mount, and I owe Ralph a lot of credit for getting me back into the saddle again."

Squartino rode regularly both here and on the New Jersey circuit before being forced into retirement because of weight problems. He won 365 races, five of those victories in stakes aboard Judy's Red Shoes, who is in the Calder hall of fame.

As for the secret to Squartino's weight loss. "I think the fact I'm cooking and around food all the time makes it easier for me not to eat as much when I'm trying to lose the weight," said Squartino, who says his specialty is seafood medley.

Veteran agent Fred Lucero is handling Squartino's book, as well as that of apprentice Patra Jean.

o Hear No Evil worked four furlongs in 47.80 seconds at Calder on Saturday morning in preparation for his next start, as the likely favorite, in Saturday's $100,000 Criterium Stakes. Sir Bear was also on Saturday's tab, going five-eighths in 1:00. The three-time Grade 1 winner is nominated to Thursday's $100,000 Americana Handicap.