03/01/2003 12:00AM

Top two jocks pull way ahead


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Joe Judice and Jesus Castanon, the two leading riders at Tampa Bay Downs, have pulled away from their competitors in the battle for the top jockey spot.

Judice, by virtue of 11 winners in the last 10 racing days, has moved out in front with 70 wins, four more than Castanon, who is winning at a 23 percent clip.

Judice is represented by jockey agent Frank "the Greek" Garoufalis, and Don Hill has Castanon's book.

Judice and Castanon are in top form right now, and both say they are committed to staying at Tampa until the end of the meeting.

Juan Umana is also having a very good meeting with 40 wins, and Russell Woolsey is having his best Tampa meet ever with 36 wins, one more than Pedro Rodriguez.

But, barring injuries, it should be Judice and Castanon down to the wire.

O'Connell in the record books

Trainer Kathleen O'Connell set a Tampa Bay record on Feb. 23 by winning four races on a single program.

O'Connell won the opener with Laura Jane ($16.60), came back in the third with Staceys Toy ($6), and then right back in the fourth with Irresistable You ($11.40). She made it 4 for 4 in the sixth, when Scrubs pulled away through the stretch, returning $8.60.

A former exercise rider and groom, O'Connell has horses stabled at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park.

"I've always enjoyed racing at Tampa," O'Connell said from Miami. "Horses do well there, and it fits a good slot in the winter for some of the horses that don't fit the program at Gulfstream."

O'Connell is currently fourth in the trainer standings. Don Rice is back in his accustomed spot at the head of the pack with 20 wins, followed by Lynn Scace with 18, and Duane Knipe and Richard Ciardullo Jr., each with 17.

* At this time last year, Martin Escobar was still an apprentice, though the term was a little misleading as the former exercise rider was in his 30's. Escobar had a good meeting here last year, moved to Canterbury in the summer, where he ranked seventh with 24 winners, then returned here this season and is having another solid meet with 19 wins, which puts him in the top 10 in the standings.