02/07/2002 1:00AM

Trophy: Once was lost, now is found


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The trophy that Woody Stephens never received for winning the 1984 Kentucky Derby with Swale was found this week in its original box in a corner of an obscure storage vault located in the general offices of Churchill Downs.

Stephens, who died in 1998 at age 84, often lamented that he never received the trophy, which was not located until this Tuesday, when two Churchill employees came upon it.

Churchill officials had no explanation of why the trophy had not been discovered for nearly 18 years. Claiborne Farm and Laffit Pincay Jr., the winning owner and jockey, received their trophies in a timely fashion, and track spokesman John Asher said the sterling silver trainer's trophy, which was engraved with the name Woodford C. Stephens, apparently had been engraved at the same time as the others.

"I think when we all found out about it, our jaws fell to the floor," said Asher. "It wasn't one of the great mysteries in Kentucky Derby history, but it was a mystery that nevertheless had gone unsolved."

Stephens was ill with pneumonia during the 1984 Derby and left the hands-on duties of training and saddling Swale to Mike Griffin, who normally worked at Claiborne in Paris, Ky. Stephens, who also won the 1974 Derby with Cannonade, often speculated that the trophy had been misplaced or stolen - and that if Churchill had mailed it as had once been insisted, he never received it.

Asher said Churchill hoped to make an official presentation of the trophy to Lucille Stephens, Woody's widow, during the week before the 128th Derby on May 4.

The discovery was made at a time when Churchill is cleaning out many long-neglected areas of the track because of its $127 million renovation, but Asher said the 1984 Derby trophy was found in an overcrowded vault in the finance department, "unrelated to the master plan."