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SPORTSMAN'S NOTES

Sportsman's Park Daily Notebook

Contact: David Zenner (773) 242-1121 ext. 310
sportsmanspub@aol.com

Friday, April 12, 2002

MEIER SIDELINED AFTER THURSDAY SPILL

Randall Meier, Sportsman's Park's all-time leading rider, will be out of action for at least a couple of weeks following a spill in Thursday's fifth race according to his agent, Penny Fitch-Heyes.

"I talked to Randy last night after he got home from the track and he thought he was just body sore," Fitch-Heyes explained Friday morning, "but when I called his house this morning his son told me that he had gone back to the hospital during the night."

According to Fitch-Heyes, Meier has a deflated lung, a couple of broken ribs and a small chip in a toe.

"We'll play it by ear," she said when asked about a timetable for Meier's return.

Meier was hurt when his mount, Candy's Spy, fell after being bumped by Brookston in upper stretch. Brookston, who went on to cross the finish line first, was subsequently disqualified and placed last.

LOPEZ QUIETLY ENJOYING GOOD MEET

Last year, Uriel Lopez won just two races during the Sportsman's Park meet. This year, with three weeks remaining in the meet he already has visited the winner's circle eight times and is just two victories shy of cracking the track's top 10.

Lopez, 35, has been plying his trade on the Chicago circuit for more than a decade after accepting his first mount here in the late 1980s.

Born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Lopez and his family came to the United States when Uriel was just eight years old. He grew up on the north side of Chicago and didn't think about becoming a jockey during most of his youth.

"I was afraid of horses when I was a little boy," Lopez noted. "I didn't come to the track until I had lost my dishwashing job. My brother, Francisco, came to the track before I did. He walked hots for Dennis Cooper. He brought me onto the track and I was afraid of horses at the beginning but I grew out of (the fear) after awhile."

After hotwalking for a little while, Lopez decided that he wanted to gallop horses and eventually become a jockey. To reach his goals, he briefly returned to his native Mexico.

"My dad took me to Mexico one year and I was getting on quarter horses for one of my uncles who lived down there," Lopez said. "I rode a couple of races down there and felt I was ready to come back here. I came back to Chicago and started galloping horses. It took me awhile before I rode my first race here. It was in 1988 or 1989 at the old five-eighths mile Sportsman's track. I rode here and at Balmoral, which was running at the same time."

Problems soon followed as Lopez found himself hanging with the wrong crowd.

"I was young," he said. "I thought everything was coming easily. I thought I could do whatever I wanted. It dragged me down. It took me awhile but things are coming back up."

In 1996, Lopez met his wife Erin and the couple now has four children: Rebecca (7), Melyssa (4), Uriel Jr. (2) and Mariana (1).

But things went south again for Lopez when he failed three breathalyzer tests and had his jockey's license suspended for six months. Lopez says that was just what he needed to force him to take a closer look at himself and become a better person.

"It made me realize what my priorities were," he said. "Most of the time I thought about what I wanted to do. Did I want to keep messing up or come back and be a better man? Staying home with my kids for that six months made me realize I could do better for them.

"I really want to thank the stewards," Lopez continued. "They gave me a hard time at the beginning because that was the best thing for me and then they worked with me to help me get back to riding. They gave me a choice. I could get a job on the outside, or I could work on the backstretch. I was hotwalking for Tom Tomillo for the first four months and then I was allowed to gallop."

"After he provided proof of completing an approved substance abuse program," explained state steward Joe Lindeman, "we issued him a groom/hotwalker license. Then he got an exercise rider license. After showing no recurrence of his problems for six months, we issued him a jockey license in August of 2000."

A short time after getting back in the saddle, Lopez broke his collar bone and was out of action for several months. But things are looking up for the veteran jockey. Last fall at Hawthorne, he won not only his first stakes race, but his first hundred-grander when he scored astride White O Morn in the $100,000 Illinois Breeders' Debutante. He won his second six-figure stakes when Colorful Tour won the $100,000 Land Of Lincoln Stakes here on Illinois Champions Day.

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