By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001
OLDSMAR -- A year ago, Christos Gatis was a new horse owner with little knowledge of the animals other than which end eats. Derek Bell was struggling to come back from a broken right shoulder that cost the jockey six weeks' pay.
Both will finish Tampa Bay Downs' annual meet today in a much better position, atop their respective winnings lists.
The trainer standings provided much less drama, as 30-year TBD veteran Don Rice will win his fifth title.
Gatis, a Greek tropical bird merchant who moved from South Africa to Tarpon Springs in 1989, has so far made a quick study of a complicated business. His success is remarkable since he has assumed most of his horses' daily maintenance from program trainer Billy Mitchell.
"I used to be afraid to even walk a horse," Gatis said. "I knew nothing. I had no background at all, except I used to come out and bet the races.
"I would ask, "What do you do for this? What do you do for this?' I found out from asking and looking and getting down and doing it, but I still don't know much about the business."
Gatis knew enough to make an outstanding claim when he took Corinas Poise, a 7-year-old mare who has won six times (to co-lead the nation) in seven starts this year.
"I started with five horses," Gatis said. "I would claim one, lose two, claim another and that's how it went."
Gatis has five horses racing and recently purchased three yearlings.
Doubling as trainer, Gatis has put in the grunt work to enjoy his quick success, but he admits his good fortune.
"Luck is a part of it. Oh, yes," he said. "I must say, for people who do not win races, you must love it to be around it."
Bell has won plenty of races, 91 in 464 mounts, which puts him 30 wins and roughly $250,000 more than the second rider at TBD.
"I never thought I could ever have been the top rider here," said Bell, who was the top jock at Canterbury Park last year. "I was going all right last year until I got hurt, and then sat there and watched while about 25 of my mounts win. That s-----."
Bell broke his shoulder Jan. 19, 2000, during a morning workout when his stirrup webbing broke and he was thrown. The time away helped infuse one of the traits he said has most helped this year: patience.
The one thing Bell did not accomplish this season was to win a stakes race, but he was able to amass more than $733,000 by finishing in the money nearly 49 percent of the time.
Rice, with 28 horses racing in the meet, was the only trainer able to reach the $300,000 plateau and his horses were in the money nearly 44 percent of the time.
He added a win in the $50,000 Columbia Stakes on Saturday.
"I try to keep half the horses I race my own and the other half are the owners,' " he said. "I get good owners and they have good horse and that helps me because they pay me good and then if my horses all get beat, I still make a living."
2,000 GUINEAS: Golan, an 11-1 shot racing for just the second time, charged down the center of the track for a 1 1/4-length victory in the first classic of the English season at Newmarket. Jockey Kieren Fallon and trainer Michael Stoute captured this race for 3-year-old colts for the second straight year. Tamburlaine finished second, with Frenchman's Bay another neck behind in third.
-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.