03/16/2002 12:00AM

Walker, Comedy Club love to lead


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Jockey Bobby Walker Jr. and the horse Comedy Club have more in common than the victory they shared on Friday's card.

Comedy Club has been in several barns in his 35-race career and has raced at a number of tracks around the Midwest. Walker, a native of Louisiana, has ridden at a number of tracks around the Midwest.

Comedy Club has competed from the bottom claiming ranks up to allowance company, while Walker has gone from being sidelined with injuries and out of action completely to being among the leading riders at Canterbury last summer.

And, as Comedy Club and Walker showed their rivals on Friday, both are extremely dangerous when left alone on the lead.

In Friday's co-feature on the turf Comedy Club sprinted to an lead early, then throttle down the pace to a slow 49.04-second half-mile. When the challengers came running, Walker had a fresh and willing runner and Comedy Club pulled away late to win by more than over two lengths over runner-up Big Scoop in the 1 1/16-mile race for high-priced claimers.

It's been that kind of meet for Walker, who is riding at Tampa on a full-time basis for the first time. Fourth in the jockey standings last summer at Canterbury, Walker talked with jockey agent Chuck Dito at Hoosier Park last fall and they decided to team up for the current Tampa meeting.

The Tampa meeting can be tough for many jockeys because there is always an overflow number of riders here at the beginning of the year, lured by the warm weather and full fields. But Walker did what you have to do to get mounts, which is get off to a quick start - in part by guiding Bog Hunter to an upset win in the Inaugural Stakes here opening day - and he hasn't looked back.

Walker picked up quite a bit of leading trainer Don Rice's business after Rice's former number one rider, Paula Bacon, was sidelined with recurring back problems. Walker's win on Comedy Club was his 23rd of the meeting, which ranks him seventh in the standings. He has proved to be especially successful on speed horses, combining a good judgment of pace and a strong ability to finish. He also has fared well in turf races, where split-second decisions often are the difference between victory and defeat.

Schedule changes in April

Tampa Bay Downs is changing its racing schedule during the month of April, moving to a Saturday-to-Tuesday schedule and dropping Thursdays for the month.

During April there also will be free grandstand admission on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Cruz, Umana, Rice, and Paulus all streaking

Manoel Cruz and Juan Umana have been the hottest riders in the past 10 days. Cruz has won with 11 of 58 mounts, Umana with 10 of 55.

Meanwhile, Don Rice has saddled 10 winners in his last 20 starters, for a 50 percent win average. Richard Paulus has sent out four winners from his last five starters.