05/07/2003 11:00PM

With weight at 144, Walls sees his career is over

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mickey Walls has wavered in the past, but this time he has no doubt.

Walls, who will turn 29 on June 1, is through with being a jockey.

"This is definitely it," said Walls, who weighed in at a comfortable 144 pounds here the other morning after completing his shift as a free-lance exercise rider.

"I'm healthy, and I never knew what healthy really was before," he said. "Since I was a bug boy, I've been reducing and fasting."

In March 2002, just prior to the start of the Woodbine meeting, Walls suffered an ankle injury that compromised his conditioning regimen. That made his struggle with weight all the more difficult and led him to announce last August that he was taking an indeterminate leave of absence.

"I thought I'd come back in the fall, but then I decided to take the winter off and try again in the spring," said Walls, who left the racetrack and was galloping horses at nearby Adena Springs North.

Then Frankie Dettori, a friend and colleague who was here for the Atto Mile last September, suggested to Walls that he might revive his career in Dubai over the winter.

"I went over there thinking 'Okay, I'll give it one last shot,' " said Walls. "When I left here, I weighed about 155 pounds. I got down to 125 or 126 pounds, and rode one there that carried about 129.

"I rode the one race, and that was it. I reduced so hard just to get down to that, and I was looking at myself and thought I've got another 10-12 pounds just to do 118 or 119 back home."

That prospect was enough to convince Walls, who rode his first race on his 16th birthday, that it truly was time to hang it up.

"I probably could have lasted maybe another year, if I'd really, really killed myself," said Walls. "But I don't want to be affected later on down the road, with health problems. I don't want to be crippled and arthritic, and I was pushing myself toward that."

Walls started riding in 1990 in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, but moved that fall to Woodbine, where he spent most of the balance of a career in which he rode in 8,869 races, recorded 1,452 wins, and had mount earnings of $37,313,569. He spent two years riding in the United States, competing mostly in Illinois and Arkansas in 1994 and 1995, before returning to Woodbine in 1996.

His most notable campaign came in 1991, when he rode 285 winners (231 as an apprentice) and won both the Eclipse and Sovereign awards as outstanding apprentice. He is the only jockey to win Sovereigns in both the apprentice and journeyman categories in the same season.

His many career stakes victories include the 1999 Queen's Plate, with Woodcarver; the 1999 Canadian Oaks, with Touch Dial; and the 2000 Pegasus with Kiss a Native.

Walls currently is content with his duties as an exercise rider, which include galloping horses for his father, trainer Joe Walls, but his goal is to become a jockey agent.

"I like the action," said Walls. "I like dealing with the people, and I know the business. It's a way of replacing the race-riding for me."

Arco's Gold behind schedule

Arco's Gold, who has fallen behind schedule on the road to the June 22 Queen's Plate, breezed seven furlongs from the gate on the training track in 1:30.20 here Wednesday and is slated to make his seasonal bow in next Saturday's Marine Stakes, an open 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds.

"That's the tentative plan, as long as everything's all right," said John Ross, who trains Arco's Gold for Alex and Steven DiIorio. "Even if we have to play catch-up, we've got to go."

The original scenario had called for Arco's Gold, who wintered in Florida, to make his first start of the year in the seven-furlong Queenston here last Sunday. But the colt developed a virus, missed about three weeks of training, and did not record his first local work until April 27.

Sam-Son's best: Seeking the Ring

While no serious Queen's Plate candidate has emerged from the Sam-Son Farm colt and gelding ranks, the barn does have a promising Canadian-bred 3-year-old filly in Seeking the Ring.

Trained by Mark Frostad, Seeking the Ring finished second in her first career start at Keeneland this spring and returned to graduate very impressively in the final race of the meeting April 25.

Seeking the Ring is nominated to the Grade 1 Selene Stakes, the 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies here May 19 that is the final local stakes prep for the Labatt Woodbine Oaks.

The $500,000 Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, will be run here June 8.

Frostad also is looking forward to the return of Strut the Stage, a 5-year-old horse who has not seen action since winning the Grade 2 Sky Classic Handicap here Oct. 27.

The trainer mentioned the Grade 2 King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile turf race here June 15, as a possible target for Strut the Stage.