10/24/2003 12:00AM

Woods retires after nearly 30 years


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A career that spanned nearly 30 years and made Charlie Woods Jr. one of the all-time leading jockeys at Churchill Downs and Turfway Park is officially over. Woods announced Friday that he will not return from the latest in a series of riding-related injuries and has hung up his tack for good.

"I'm tired of getting hurt," said Woods, 53. "Everybody reaches their degree of success. I had a good career, met a lot of great people, made a lot of great friends. I just decided it was time to move on."

In a career that began in early 1974 at Oaklawn Park, Woods won 2,857 times in 21,047 races, with his mounts earning more than $36.6 million. A native of Louisville, he was a mainstay of the Kentucky circuit and endeared himself to racing fans within the state.

Although he rode regularly at Ellis Park and Keeneland, he always seemed to enjoy greater success at the state's other two major tracks, Churchill and Turfway. At Churchill, where he was the leading rider at the 1985 spring meet, he won 748 races, which puts him fifth behind Pat Day, Don Brumfield, Jim McKnight, and Larry Melancon. At Turfway, he won eight riding titles.

Woods had not ridden since March, when he began feeling constant pain in and around his neck. He underwent disk surgery in April and had hoped to return to riding but ultimately decided to turn to a new career.

"I'm wanting to stay in the horse business, hopefully as a jockey's agent," he said.

Several key injuries over the past eight years took their toll, said Woods. "I wasn't really producing the winners like I had in all my years before," he said.

Woods injured his ribs, jaw, and hand at the start of a race at the 1995 fall meet at Churchill. Before then, "I'd really been rolling," he said.

He posted his richest career victory in April 1998 in the $500,000 Ashland at Keeneland, riding Well Chosen to a 9-1 upset for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. But Woods suffered a serious wrist injury that summer in a training accident and was out for nearly two years with repeated complications.

"After that, I couldn't get the quantity and the quality back," he said. "That was pretty much the turning point."

After all the wrist trouble, he suffered several more injuries, including a knee in 2000, shoulder and ribs in 2001, and the neck this year.

Woods, who is widely known for a quick wit and positive demeanor, said he has "no complaints. Racing gave me a great life. It was a career I can be proud of."

Romans ready to rebound

As good as Dale Romans did at the 2001 and 2002 Keeneland fall meets - he was the leading trainer at both - that's how poorly the most recent meet went. With three days to go, Romans had won with just 1 of 27 starters.

"We had a rough meet," Romans said. "I thought we'd have done better, but we did have some seconds and thirds from horses that should come back and run big here at Churchill. We also have some horses ready that didn't run up there. My horses have had a long year, but I think we'll win our share here."

Romans, easily the leading trainer at the Churchill spring meet, has a contender for the opening-day Ack Ack in Dubai Sheikh, who was closing ground when fourth in the recent Phoenix Stakes. The Phoenix was his first start since he won the Don Bernhardt at Ellis Park.

"He got hit in the eye at Ellis, and we had to take him to the clinic after that," said Romans. "I thought his race at Keeneland was good, considering the layoff. He came out of it great and could be tough Sunday."

Stakes purses set record

The only alterations to the Churchill stakes program were that three of the 11 fall stakes had their purses raised: the Nov. 28 Clark from $400,000 to $500,000; the Nov. 27 Falls City from $250,000 to $300,000; and the opening-day Ack Ack from $100,000 to $150,000. The aggregate of $2.2 million in stakes purses is a record for a Churchill fall meet.

After the Ack Ack, the next stakes are a pair of 2-year-old events next weekend: the Pocahontas on Saturday and the Iroquois on Sunday. Both are $100,000 races at one mile.

For the Pocahontas, Churchill officials are expecting at least six fillies, including Bassinet Stakes winner In Rome and Florida invader Marina de Chavon.

The Iroquois figures to get at least eight colts and geldings, including Pro Prado, unbeaten in two starts for Bob Holthus, and Glittergem, runner-up in the Arlington-Washington Futurity.

Galloping Gal headed to Golden Rod

As the fall meet at Keeneland wound down last week, Galloping Gal ran her career record to 3 for 4 by rallying to win the $113,200 Jessamine County Stakes on Thursday at the Lexington, Ky., track.

Ridden by Brice Blanc, Galloping Gal finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.56 over firm turf and returned $4.20 as the favorite. A 2-year-old filly by Victory Gallop, she now is unbeaten in three starts over grass, with her only defeat a second-place finish behind Be Gentle in the Alcibiades Stakes on opening day.

Ken McPeek, who trains Galloping Gal for Bill Carl, said he will point her to the Nov. 29 Golden Rod Stakes on Churchill's closing-day card. "We'd love to think she's an Oaks filly," he said.

On Friday, in the male counterpart to the Jessamine County, Commendation ($9) drew clear in midstretch to win the Bourbon County Stakes by nearly three lengths over longshot Oncearoundtwice. Commendation, owned by Courtlandt Farm and trained by Graham Motion, was ridden by Cornelio Velasquez and covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.99 over firm going.

Commendation, a gray colt by Capote, is a half-brother to the standout filly Take Charge Lady.