05/05/2004 12:00AM

Thistledown track report


NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - The $40,000 Michael Rowland Memorial Handicap, formerly the Quick Step Handicap, will be run Saturday. The race honors Thistledown's all-time leading jockey Michael Rowland, who died in February from injuries sustained in a spill at Turfway Park. Rowland rode here for 20 years.

The track will host a silent auction to benefit the Michael Rowland Fund between 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday. Frank Stronach has donated a season to Milwaukee Brew, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap in 2002 and 2003, and the Ohio Derby in 2000. Among other items up for bids are 2004 Breeders' Cup tickets at Lone Star Park, a three-night stay at the MGM Las Vegas, and two Southwest Airline tickets.

Phone bidding will be available for those unable to attend. The numbers are (216) 214-5268, (216) 214-1778, and (216) 662-8600.

* An estimated crowd of 11,000 on Kentucky Derby Day produced the highest handle in the track's history. A record $1,911,138 was bet, topping the previous record set on June 18, 1978, Ohio Derby Day, when Steve Cauthen came in to ride Believe It for Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stevens.

* Through the first few weeks of live racing, jockey Huber Villa-Gomez has a 21-14 lead over Julio Felix. Adding to the strength of the riding colony, are newcomers Weldon T. Cloninger Jr., Augusto Bracho, and promising young apprentice Rocky Camaque.

Gary Lee Johnson leads the trainer standings with 11 wins, one better than last year's leading trainer, Rodney Faulkner.