04/26/2006 11:00PM

Apprentice jockeys Stephen and Pang out to make marks


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Apprentice jockeys Mark Stephen and Jason Pang are hoping to fill the void Justin Stein created when he decided to ride at Woodbine this year. Stein was a runaway winner in the jockey standings in 2005, setting a record for the most wins by an apprentice at Hastings. Pang and Stephen are the only apprentices currently riding at Hastings.

Stephen has gotten off to a good start at the meet. He has had only had six mounts, but already he has won a race and finished third once.

Stephen, 19, was born in Trinidad and he started his riding career there. Oddly, his light weight had a lot to do with him making the move to Canada.

"In my case I was too light," he said. "You're okay if you weigh about 49 to 52 kilos, but if you're less than that you have to pack a lot of extra weight and trainers aren't happy about that. I weigh about 44 kilos [97 pounds]."

Stephen comes from a riding family. "It started with my grandfather, who trained horses," he said. "My dad also rode."

Also, his cousin Anthony Stephen has been a regular rider at Hastings since 2002.

"Anthony recommended that I come out here," said Stephen. "He said that the trainers at Hastings like light riders, and that Vancouver was a great place to live. I'm happy to be here and haven't missed home for one second."

It probably didn't hurt that he rode his first winner for last year's leading trainer, Gary Demorest. Stephen is getting some guidance from Demorest's main rider, Pedro Alvarado.

"I really like Mark's attitude," said Alvarado. "He really wants to be a rider. Some guys ride a few races and they think they know it all. Mark really wants to learn and he really listens to the advice I try and give him. I think he's going to do well here."

Stephen will be handled by Alvarado's agent, Paul Mabbott.

Pang, 20, also comes from another culture.

He was born in Hong Kong and went to the apprentice riding school that is sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

"I went to school there for a year," he said. "It's very tough to get started as a jockey there, though. There are a lot more apprentices trying to ride in Hong Kong than there are here."

Pang, who has been training to be a jockey since he was 14, was starting to become a bit impatient in Hong Kong and he decided to move to Canada. He was sponsored by Kanny Ng of Castle Peak Farm Ltd., which is located in Ashton, Ontario. Last September Pang made the move, hoping to ride at Woodbine this year. However, because of the overflow of Canadian jockeys, the Jockeys' Guild in Ontario doesn't allow foreign riders in to ride at Woodbine on a regular basis. They can come up to ride in major stakes races, but that's about it.

Over the winter Ng sent horses to the Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown, Fla., and Pang went along as an exercise rider. Also stabled there was one of the top trainers in the United States, Bill Mott, who thinks Pang has an excellent chance of being a successful jockey.

"He's a natural and I think he has a lot of potential," said Mott. "He also has a great attitude. He was happy to work at the barn all afternoon and he has a great work ethic. It's out of my hands now but I wish he would have stayed down here and got his paperwork figured out. I would have taken him to New York and given him a big shot - and I can tell you that I wouldn't do that for just anybody."

When Pang returned to Ontario, he heard about Hastings from Trapper Barroby, the agent for Justin Stein.

"He told me that they're always looking for riders at Hastings, so I decided to give it a try out here," said Pang. "Mr. Ng's training center is a five-furlong track so I feel very comfortable here."

Pang arrived just a few days before the meet began so it's not surprising that he hasn't had much business yet. He rides his first horse Saturday - Jewels Again in the first race - but according to his agent, Geoff Mussellam, he'll be riding more horses next weekend.

Bond Queen to run at Stampede

According to her trainer, Terry Jordan, Bond Queen came out of her win in the Supernaturel Stakes last Saturday in excellent shape. Jordan has mapped out a busy schedule for the speedy 3-year-old filly.

"She's going to run in the Mount Royal Stakes at Stampede Park next Sunday and then we'll bring her back here for the Langley May 20," he said. "After that she'll probably ship back to California."

Bond Queen, $5.30, led from start to finish in the Supernaturel. Jordan doesn't think she'll stretch out to a middle distance and the Langley is the last sprint stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Hastings.