11/11/2003 12:00AM

At 26, apprentice jockey hits ground running


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - In a perfect world, 26-year-old apprentice jockey Corey Fraser would have enjoyed a lengthier introduction to the sport before launching himself headlong into the world of Thoroughbred racing.

But Fraser, who came to the racetrack only three years ago, has taken the fast track to the jockeys' room, and he's determined to make up for lost time. Last weekend, he recorded the first two victories of his career.

"I wish I had come to the game when I was 15 or 16," said Fraser, who was born in Toronto and spent his early years there before moving with his family to Niagara Falls. "I would have taken four or five years before I took my license out. I did it in three, but you should put more of a base behind you."

Fraser had embraced athletic pursuits such as running, soccer, and rugby, and he later dabbled in rock climbing and skydiving.

But his background included little to do with horse racing, other than attending Flamboro Downs with an uncle who had owned some Standardbreds.

Fraser, in fact, was a waiter-in-waiting at a Red Lobster restaurant, closer to the surf than to the turf, when a chance meeting with veterinarian Judith Pottins sent him off in a new direction.

Pottins, who has close ties to the racetrack, suggested that Fraser might be well suited to life a jockey.

"I'd heard that for years," said Fraser, who stands 5-foot-3 and weighs 109 pounds, "but she had connections. The names, to me, might as well have been in Egyptian. But we talked about it, and she said to let her know.

"Two weeks after I talked to her, I was in Florida."

Fraser started out at Payson Park, where he walked and groomed horses for trainer Roger Attfield.

"I wanted to learn, fast," said Fraser, adding that assistant trainer Rachel Halden was instrumental in helping him. "I put myself on fast-forward."

Fraser's education continued the following spring at trainer Paul Buttigieg's farm, near Toronto in Barrie, but he left and moved back home when his mother contracted an illness that proved to be fatal.

That summer, Fraser went to work with trainer Edward Freeman at Fort Erie.

"I was getting on horses, shed-rowing and going to the track with the odd horse," Fraser said. "I stayed with him a year. I really started galloping then."

Fraser returned to Payson Park, this time with Fort Erie-based trainer Paul Nielsen. Then he hooked up with Mac Benson and galloped horses for that trainer here through the 2002 campaign and last winter in Florida.

This spring, Fraser sought out jockey agent Lorne Spearman, with an eye toward launching his career in August. While he did not debut until Oct. 13, Fraser was hard to miss in his first career ride, aboard War Medal.

"Coming down the stretch I couldn't hear anybody, and I wasn't turning around to look," said Fraser, who had War Medal in front by five lengths at the eighth pole. "I thought, 'This can't be.' "

It wasn't, as War Medal was caught late by American Forum, but Fraser was not unduly disappointed.

"I was plenty happy with second," he said. "And, I got tons of exposure."

It took Fraser another 11 mounts before he celebrated his first win, when Angel in Tights captured the ninth race here last Saturday.

Less than 24 hours later, in Fort Erie's ninth race, Fraser racked up win No. 2 with Secret Secret Star. And on Thursday, he'll climb back aboard War Medal, who is a leading contender in the day's fourth race.

"Up until now, everything's been falling into place," said Fraser. "It's almost going like a storybook. It's picture-perfect."

Two maiden winners hook up

Mamba King and Luke in My Pocket are the main contenders in Thursday's feature, a seven-furlong allowance for Ontario-sired runners.

Mamba King and Luke in My Pocket are both nominated to the $125,000 Sir Barton Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds on Nov. 22.

Mamba King set slow fractions on an uncontested lead on Oct. 2, when he won his maiden with authority in his second start. He faced Ontario-sired 3-year-olds two weeks later, in the seven-furlong Deputy Minister Stakes, and finished fourth in the five-horse field.

Mamba King should be the dominant speed in Thursday's race, with Emile Ramsammy riding for trainer David Bell.

Luke in My Pocket, a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Brass in Pocket, ended up second after running greenly when he debuted in Mamba King's maiden triumph. Most recently, he overcame traffic problems to graduate with a big off-the-pace run in an Oct. 19 maiden special weight race in open company.

David Clark retains the mount on Luke in My Pocket for Woodbine's leading trainer, Bob Tiller.

Also entered in Thursday's feature are Mikango, Pretty Bad Boy, Into the Dawn, Obliquity, and Chivas.

One for Rose headed to Top Flight

One for Rose, who was assigned high weight of 124 pounds for Sunday's seven-furlong Bessarabian, is slated to pass that race and make her next appearance in the Grade 2, $150,000 Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 28.

Regular rider Emile Ramsammy has the call on One for Rose, who is coming off an impressive victory in the 1 1/4-mile Maple Leaf Stakes here Nov. 1.

One for Rose, owned by Tucci Stable and trained by Sid Attard, is a leading candidate for the Sovereign Award as top older filly or mare.

- additional reporting by Ron Gierkink