12/30/2004 1:00AM

Trainer, jockey Belmonte dies


Willie Belmonte, a jockey and trainer at various East Coast tracks for the past 15 years, died Wednesday in Charles Town, W.Va.

Belmonte, 38, a son of former New York-based jockey Eddie Belmonte, was found to have cancer several months ago.

Although it's fairly common for jockeys to become trainers once their riding careers are over, Belmonte did just the opposite. He began training in 1989 and won 666 races until switching to riding in 2002.

As a trainer, Belmonte's best year was 1994, when he saddled 150 winners, primarily at Penn National Race Course. Although Penn National was his home track, Belmonte also spent time at Philadelphia Park, Delaware Park, Suffolk Downs, and Rockingham Park.

Since he began riding, Belmonte tied for leading rider honors at the 2004 Northampton Fair in western Massachusetts. He rode the infamous maiden Zippy Chippy in his 100th consecutive defeat last September.

In addition to riding at Northampton, where he earned 45 of his 109 career victories, Belmonte rode frequently at Suffolk, Turf Paradise, and Yavapai.

Funeral arrangements are pending.