Former Fort Erie jockey Jeff Fell, who retired in 1987, is making a comeback and reportedly plans to shift his base of operations to Aqueduct. Fell, 33, a native of Hamilton, Ont., started riding at Fort Erie when he was 18.
Tutored by Chris Rogers, another Hamilton rider, Fell was the leading apprentice and second-leading rider at the Fort Erie summer meet in 1974. Between the summer of 1974 and the fall of 1977, he hit the Fort Erie winners' circle 221 times in 912 races.
In 1975, he was the leading rider at the spring meet and third-leading rider at the summer meet. He led the summer meet in both 1976 and 1977 before moving to the United States for an extended stay.
Fell won his first stakes race at Fort Erie, aboard Colonel's Clarion in the 1974 Vandal Stakes. Fell's best horse probably was Norcliffe, who scored his first win at Fort Erie by 16 lengths and went on to win the Queen's Plate, Canada's most prestigious race, in 1976 and the Prince of Wales, Fort Erie's biggest event. Norcliffe was named Canada's Horse of the Year in 1976.
Vince Bracciale Jr., a Maryland-based jockey known as "Jimbo," has retired after 3,545 winners and $37.8 million in purse money in 20,290 starts. Bracciale, 37, plans to become a trainer. He won the Prince of Wales Stakes twice, in 1983 on Archdeacon and in 1986 on Queen's Plate winner Golden Choice.
Bracciale won twice aboard the great filly Ruffian. His other big horses have included Dave's Friend, Broad Brush and Pleasant Colony.
Just Possible, a 6-year-old pacer driven by Ron Wittenberg, won at Buffalo Raceway last Saturday in 2:00, the fastest mile of the winter meet. Next fastest, at 2:00 1/5 , are Must B Precious (Ed McNeight Jr.) and Olympus (Gary Pafk). They are followed by Cambiance (2:00 2/5 , McNeight) and Shaving Mug (2:00 3/5 , Jack Flanigen).
Inherit The Crown holds the meet's three fastest trotting miles. He won in 2:04 4/5 and 2:05 1/5 for Dave Barsuk, and in 2:06 1/5 for Joe Barsuk Jr. Next come Keystone Vanna (2:06 2/5 , McNeight) and Fly Rod (2:06 4/5 , Patsy C. Rapone).
The E. P. Taylor Stakes, a 1 1/4 -mile turf race for fillies and mares usually run as Woodbine's secondary feature on the same October day as the Rothman's International Stakes, has been downgraded from Grade I to Grade II by the North American Graded Stakes Committee.
The move leaves the Rothman's, a 1 1/2 -mile turf contest that attracts some of the world's best grass horses, as the only Grade I event on the Ontario Jockey Club's calendar. The drop is part of a sport-wide reduction of Grade I events from 121 to 94 as the powers that be aim to make a Grade I victory more elusive and more meaningful as a measure of top class.
On the more positive side, the committee shifted Woodbine's Molson Export Million from ungraded to Grade II.
Woodbine keeps six Grade III events -- the Dominion Day Stakes, Eclipse Stakes, Grey Stakes, Mazarine Stakes, Niagara Stakes and Summer Stakes.
The OJC also presents nine races labeled as Grade IC that represent the top of the ladder for races in Canada. They include the Selene Stakes, Canadian Oaks, Queen's Plate, Canadian Maturity, Breeders' Stakes, Belle Mahone Stakes, Cup and Saucer, and Coronation Futurity at Woodbine, and the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.
The second edition of Buffalo Raceway's $200,000 Hopeful Stakes -- the track's richest event -- is scheduled July 1. Eliminations to reduce the field to eight 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings will be held a week earlier (June 24). Last year's Hopeful favorite, Beach Towel, came in second in the balloting for North America's top freshman colt.
Other big 1990 races at the Hamburg oval include the $75,000 Graduate Pace for 4- and 5-year-olds April 28, and an estimated $355,000 worth of New York Sire Stakes races for 3-year-olds. The NYSS sophomore pacers compete May 26 for about $190,000. The filly trotters go June 3 for about $80,000 and the colt trotters race June 10 for about $85,000.
Tentative opening day at Finger Lakes Race Track has been moved up to March 31 from the previously-announced April 3. This year's season is scheduled to extend through Dec. 4. . . . Robert Wade, Finger Lakes' advertising director and former publicity director, died Jan. 18 at age 71. . . . Pocono Downs, the harness track at Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has received approval from the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission to construct an off-track betting parlor in Erie, Pa.