01/16/2006 1:00AM

Another young rider picks up torch


The winter-spring meet at Turfway Park has become a proving ground of sorts for young riders.

Over the last few winters, jockeys such as Kris Prather (2001), Greta Kuntzweiler (2002), and Rafael Bejarano (2004) have made an initial splash by winning the riding title at Turfway's winter-spring meet. While Prather has since retired because of health issues, and Kuntzweiler's career has been put on hold after she recently was arrested on drug charges, Bejarano has become perhaps the hottest young jockey in all of North America.

Now comes Julien Leparoux, a 22-year-old apprentice who is perpetuating the Turfway youth trend by developing into the track's dominant jockey. Leparoux, who grew up in a racing family in Chantilly, France, rode five winners Sunday at Turfway, becoming just the 13th jockey to win that many at the Florence, Ky., track. Into the Wednesday program, Leparoux had 20 wins at the winter-spring meet, followed by veterans Jason Lumpkins (11 wins) and Bill Troilo (10).

Bejarano, who now rides at Gulfstream Park in the winter, holds the Turfway record for most wins on a card. Bejarano, now 23, rode seven winners on a card once and six in a day twice during his record-smashing 2004 season at Turfway. Among other riders, only Prather, who once won six on a 2001 program, has exceeded the five-win threshold.

Leparoux, whose agent is former jockey Steve Bass, said Monday that he is striving to emulate Bejarano in using Turfway as the launching point of his career.

"I hope to do like Bejarano," he said. "I am a long way to go anywhere, but I just have to work for that."

Leparoux, who speaks English reasonably well, said he was 11 when he first rode a horse and 18 when he started getting serious about riding racehorses. His father, Robert, was a longtime stablehand and assistant trainer before his death in 2003, and after a spectacular day such as Sunday, the young Leparoux said he cannot help but think of the influence his father had on him.

"I hope he's proud of me," he said. "My mother still lives in Chantilly, and she follows what I am doing. We talk to each other by phone a lot. Maybe Mondays or Tuesdays, she calls me to know what I did."

Leparoux's career has been guided to a substantial degree by trainer Patrick Biancone, a fellow Frenchman who has kept a string of horses at Turfway for the first time this winter. Leparoux initially came to the United States about two years ago to work as an exercise rider for Biancone, who eventually allowed him to slowly work his way into being a jockey. Leparoux first rode in a race last summer at Saratoga, where he won three times from just 20 mounts. Then, after slow fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, Leparoux began winning again at the Turfway holiday meet, where he posted a four-win day on Dec. 18.

"Sometimes you have very good days, when everything you do is okay," said Leparoux. "I had some luck [Sunday], and then I won. Maybe one day next week I won't win any race."

Leparoux notched his five wins from just seven mounts Sunday. Those winners were Everybodywantssome ($28.80) in the third race, Thelightsareon ($3.80) in the fourth, Coin Maker ($8.60) in the sixth, Safe Play ($5.40) in the eighth, and Perfectstormtoo ($6.80) in the ninth and last race.

Leparoux has committed to moving his tack to Keeneland after the Turfway meet ends April 6 but does not know whether he will stay in Kentucky afterward, since Biancone has been taking his main string to the New York circuit in the spring.

"I am looking at Turfway right now," he said. "I want to do well here first. Then hopefully other things will happen for me."