02/22/2008 12:00AM

Vitek battling leukemia


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jockey Justin Vitek has a virulent form of leukemia and is fighting for his life in a Louisville hospital.

Vitek, 34, speaking Thursday from his room at Jewish Hospital, said he has acute myelogenous leukemia and will be hospitalized indefinitely. Vitek, who is mobile and lucid, began chemotherapy treatments Wednesday and said his doctors have told him he will be required to do so daily for a week to 10 days.

AML is a relatively rare and rapidly progressing form of blood cancer that interferes with the production of normal blood cells.

The disease is potentially curable, although mortality rates are high in people 60 and older, who are the most likely to have the disease. Survival rates have been shown to increase with youth.

Vitek (pronounced VEE-tek) was born in Houston and grew up in Wallace, Texas. He began his riding career in 1993 at Sunland Park in New Mexico, and after spending several years at Southwest tracks, he moved on to ride on several different circuits, including Southern California, Illinois, and, for most of the last seven years, in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. He most recently was active at Turfway Park, where on Dec. 20 he was briefly hospitalized after being involved in a multiple-horse spill during a race.

"Ever since the spill I really haven't felt right," said Vitek, who last rode on Feb. 14. "The doctors told me I had about one-third of the blood I needed in my body."

He said he received a transfusion of six pints of blood shortly after being admitted to the hospital last Sunday.

From 8,205 career mounts, Vitek has ridden 763 winners, and his mounts have earned more than $9.88 million. His biggest win came in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes in 2000 at Churchill Downs aboard Miss Pickums.

Vitek has lived in recent years in Sulphur, Ky., near LaGrange, about 35 miles east of Louisville. He was accompanied in the hospital by his mother, ex-wife, and 4-year-old daughter.

Longtime trainer Wiley dies

Les Wiley Jr., a longtime trainer who raced regularly at Turfway and River Downs, died Tuesday at age 74 after a lengthy illness.

Wiley began training in 1971 and had 615 winners.

A funeral service was held Thursday in Versailles, Ky.

Big Glen heads Battaglia probables

Big Glen, winner of the WEBN Stakes on Feb. 2, is among the likely starters next Saturday in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway. Stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman said a large field is likely for the 1 1/16-mile Battaglia, with other possible starters including Cherokee Triangle, Mr. Harry, Halo's King, and either of the Mark Casse pair of Miner's Claim or Briarwood Circle.

The Battaglia is the local prep for the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, which will be run March 22.

No problems with Polytrack

The Polytrack surface at Turfway has held up well during a recent spate of inclement weather in the greater Cincinnati area. The only recent cancellation came last Sunday because of bitter cold and had nothing to do with the track surface.

Turfway began using Polytrack in September 2005 to combat the freeze-and-thaw cycles that frequently occur at this time of year. Sleet, freezing rain, and snow flurries hit the region Thursday and Friday.

* Sunday's feature, a $28,700 classified allowance, drew a field of six seasoned pros. Atticus Kristy, a winner of $560,764, is a logical contender in the 6 1/2-furlong race, as is He Loves Me Not, a four-time winner on Polytrack.