02/08/2008 1:00AM

Win lifts rider's spirits


Jockey James Lopez has not seen his wife and 4-year-old son since returning to riding last summer, so his victory last weekend aboard Big Glen in the $50,000 WEBN Stakes at Turfway helped temporarily abate his loneliness.

"Winning that race was amazing, almost hard to explain," said Lopez.

He had not won a stakes race since 2004. In a Turfway spill in March 2005, Lopez suffered a collarbone fracture that required five screws and a plate to repair.

Although the injury healed in due course, he wound up being away from racing for nearly 2 1/2 years, saying he was "burnt out" and weary of getting injured. In the meantime, he and his wife, Kelli, and their young son, Jamie, moved to Derby, Kan., near Wichita, to be with her family, where James eventually helped build oil rigs and lay ceramic-tile floors.

Lopez, 29, said that after he watched the Kentucky Derby last May, he "started to get the itch back," and when he returned to action in late August at Ellis Park, he won with his first mount. Unfortunately for him, medical and personal issues have precluded Kelli from moving back to Kentucky with him, although Lopez said he is optimistic the family will be reunited "before too long."

The son of jockey Joe Lopez and a native of San Antonio, James Lopez began his riding career in 1995. He is a former leading rider at Turfway, Oaklawn Park, and Louisiana Downs, and he has nearly 900 winners and mount earnings of more than $17.8 million. His best years were 2000 through 2002, when his purse earnings nudged past the $3omillion mark in all three seasons.

Big Glen, trained by Frank Brothers, earned a career-high 86 Beyer Speed Figure in the one-mile WEBN.

The Cactus Ridge colt is a prime candidate for the next race in Turfway's series for 3-year-olds, the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial on March 1.

Two Mondays no longer dark

Turfway found a logical way to make up for January cancellations, announcing last week that it will host racing on two upcoming Monday afternoons when the track otherwise would be dark. Turfway will run Feb. 18, Presidents Day, and March 17, St. Patrick's Day.

The $50,000 St. Patrick's Day Handicap will be the March 17 feature. Turfway racing secretary Rick Leigh said the six-furlong race fills a void on a stakes schedule that lacked a sprint race for older horses following the Jan. 26 Forego.

"After the Forego, we only had routes for this group for the rest of the winter-spring meet," said Leigh.

St. Patrick's Day will start a big week for Turfway, since the annual showcase race, the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, is set for the following Saturday, March 22.

First at Summer heads Sunday feature

The Sunday feature at Turfway is a $26,600 second-level allowance that drew a field of nine fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs.

First at Summer, most recently fourth in the Wishing Well Stakes, looks like the horse to catch. Phil Teator has the mount for trainer Pat Huffman.