11/28/2002 1:00AM

Verne Winchell, 87, dies


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Verne Winchell, who campaigned the champion Tight Spot and founded a nationwide doughnut chain, died on Tuesday at his home in Las Vegas. Winchell died of cardiac arrest following his daily exercise routine. He was 87.

Winchell had a 40-year involvement in racing as an owner and breeder. At the time of his death, he owned Oakwind Farm in Lexington, Ky.

Winchell's leading runner was Tight Spot, the champion turf male of 1991. Trained by Ron McAnally, Tight Spot won 5 of 6 starts in 1991, including the Arlington Million and Eddie Read Handicap. His only loss that year was a ninth in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Winchell also campaigned such notable stakes winners as Amerique, Call Now, Fleet Renee, Future Quest, Mira Femme, Olympio, On Target, Sea Cadet, and Valiant Nature.

Fleet Renee won the Ashland Stakes and Mother Goose Stakes for Winchell in 2001.

Winchell had three runners in the Kentucky Derby. His best result was a fourth by Classic Go Go in 1981. In 1961-62, he campaigned Donut King, who was a leading contender for the 1962 Kentucky Derby before being sidelined by injury.

In the business world, Winchell, a native of Illinois, was best known for the doughnut stores that carried his name. Founded in 1948, the Winchell's Donut stores were later sold to Denny's Restaurants, for whom Winchell later worked as chief executive and president.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, four children, five grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.