11/19/2003 1:00AM

Will Bien Nicole relax?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Breeders' Cup crowd at Santa Anita oohed and aahed as Bien Nicole kept getting farther ahead in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, but all Donnie Von Hemel could do was cringe.

"All I was thinking was, 'Slow down!' " said Von Hemel, who trains Bien Nicole for John and Kristine Richter.

Quite predictably, Bien Nicole tired from her early efforts - after six furlongs, she led the 1 1/4-mile turf race by eight lengths - and eventually wound up ninth, beaten 6 3/4 lengths by the victorious Islington. Shortly after the Breeders' Cup, Bien Nicole returned to Kentucky, where she took up residence at the Trackside training center and began pointing toward the $150,000 Cardinal Handicap, a Grade 3 turf race to be run Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Von Hemel, based in Oklahoma, has left the day-to-day training of Bien Nicole with assistant Bridget Lambert. A 5-year-old chestnut mare, Bien Nicole has won 4 of 9 starts this year, with her biggest win coming two races ago in the WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland. She also sped away to a big lead in the Galaxy.

"The [slow] fractions were more in our favor at Keeneland," said Von Hemel, who will be here Saturday. "I don't know what it was about the Breeders' Cup, whether it was crossing the dirt, the crowd, what. Usually she throws her ears up and relaxes, but she just wanted to keep going that day."

Von Hemel said he expects a more relaxed tempo Saturday from Bien Nicole, who again will be ridden by Don Pettinger. "We've done a few subtle things with her in her training," Von Hemel said. "Hopefully we'll have more control over how much speed she shows."

Bien Nicole is part of a full field of fillies and mares expected for the 1 1/8-mile Cardinal, which is the lone stakes here this weekend. The other probables include Riskaverse, Janeian, Quick Tip, Dyna Da Wyna, San Dare, Delmonico Cat, Dick's Chick, Firth of Lorne, Golden Rhythm, and Ilha Grande.

McKee to take winter break

Jockey John McKee, who will ride at the Oaklawn Park meet, which begins Jan. 23, will be inactive for nearly eight weeks after the Churchill meet ends on Nov. 29.

McKee, 22, probably would have ridden for several weeks at Turfway Park, where a four-month meeting begins Nov. 30, but because his agent, Eddie Campbell, is scheduled for extensive spinal and back therapy, McKee has elected to take the time off.

"I'm taking a little vacation to freshen up," said McKee, whose riding career began in March 2002. "I'll get down to Oaklawn a couple of weeks early and get ready for hopefully a big meet there."

McKee's career as a journeyman has proceeded quite well since he lost his apprenticeship in early June. He has won several stakes, most notably the Grade 2 Firecracker in July, and was fourth with 17 wins in the Churchill standings going into the Wednesday program.

Campbell, who turns 75 on Nov. 28, is the only agent ever employed by McKee, who last winter rode daily in New York as an apprentice. Campbell was the agent for Steve Cauthen early in the Hall of Fame jockey's career.

Commission appointments up in air

Kentucky governor-elect Ernie Fletcher has said in recent published reports that he will not accept all of the appointments made to the Kentucky Racing Commission last week by Gov. Paul Patton, whose eight-year tenure ends Dec. 9.

Patton, a Democrat, appointed three new members and reappointed eight current members to the commission. A spokesman for Fletcher, who on Nov. 4 became the first Republican in 32 years to be elected Kentucky governor, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that Fletcher expects the appointments to be declined. Fletcher will be empowered to ask for resignations once he takes office.

Day still racking up wins

By the time the meet ends Nov. 29, Pat Day most likely will have more than 8,600 wins. Into the Wednesday card, Day had 8,590 career wins, third-highest in racing history behind the retired Laffit Pincay Jr. (9,530) and the late Bill Shoemaker (8,833). Close on the heels of Day is Russell Baze, the northern California rider who began Wednesday with 8,437 wins.

Given his current pace, Day might very well pass Shoemaker at the 2004 Churchill fall meet. In the past five years (1998-2002), Day has averaged nearly 260 wins per year. Into Wednesday, he had ridden exactly 200 winners this year.