05/26/2006 11:00PM

Woods ends local drought with win


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As the fifth-leading rider in Churchill Downs history, Charlie Woods Jr. can claim many fond memories of his hometown track.

But until Woods rode Yankees Blast to a seven-length triumph in the 11th and final race here Friday evening, it had been four years since he had ridden a winner at Churchill. With longtime friends and family members excitedly watching, Woods drew a rousing ovation when he returned to the winner's circle aboard Yankees Blast.

"They were all hoopin' and hollerin' like I won the Derby or something," said Woods, a Louisville native and lifelong resident. "That made it good to get back in the winner's circle."

Woods, 55, has ridden sparingly since returning from retirement last fall. After suffering a series of serious injuries, most notably to his wrist and neck, Woods announced his retirement in October 2003, working primarily as a jockey agent during his down time. Since his return to the saddle, Woods had won a handful of races at Turfway Park and one at Mountaineer Park.

Woods had gone winless this meet, just as he was with a limited number of mounts at the 2005 and 2002 fall meets. That meant his most recent winner at Churchill before Friday had come at the 2002 spring meet, when he rode four winners.

"I don't remember who my last one was for, but it does seem like it was yesterday," he said. "Winning is like riding a bike. You just don't forget what it feels like, daddy-o."

Yankees Blast, owned by Robert Mondun and trained by Bill Ford, is the 749th career winner at Churchill for Woods, who now has more than 2,860 wins in a career that began in 1974 at Oaklawn Park. The all-time leaders at Churchill, in order, are Pat Day, Don Brumfield, Jim McKnight, Larry Melancon, and Woods.

Wiggins considered for Foster

Trainer Dale Romans said he "will think about" running Wiggins in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 17 after Wiggins coasted to a 2 1/2-length triumph Friday in the $68,000 Foster prep. Wiggins, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, won the 1 1/16-mile race after being the first to overtake longshot pacesetter Eroberer.

"We'll just have to see how tough it's coming up," said Romans. "Right now I'd say I doubt it, but I'm not going to rule it out."

The Foster is the annual highlight of the post-Kentucky Derby segment of the Churchill spring meet.

Hettel may help in Romans appeal

Romans said he and his attorney, Bob Stallings, will consult this week with Bernie Hettel regarding their appeal of the disqualification of the Romans-trained Smart N Pretty in the May 19 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico. Smart N Pretty finished first but was disqualified to second for bearing out in the stretch, which gave the Black-Eyed Susan victory to Regal Engagement. The Maryland Racing Commission is scheduled to hear the appeal June 23.

Hettel was a high-ranking racing official in Kentucky for more than 20 years, serving as chief steward and executive director of the now-defunct Kentucky Racing Commission during much of his tenure. Romans said Hettel may testify as an expert witness.

"We're definitely going forward with the appeal," said Romans.

Three stakes on Saturday

Three stakes are scheduled here Saturday: the $150,000 Aristides Breeders' Cup, the $150,000 Dogwood BC, and the $100,000 Opening Verse. Those will be the last Churchill stakes until six are run on Foster Day.

Two weekends are void of stakes at the spring meet: June 10-11 and June 24-25. The meet runs through July 16.