01/06/2003 12:00AM

Apprentice wins first California race

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ALBANY, Calif. - Apprentice jockey Belen Quinonez knows his way around a racetrack.

Quinonez, 23, is now starting to learn his way around northern California.

Quinonez picked up his first victory at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday with a patient, ground-saving trip aboard Repayma in a $12,500 claimer at one mile.

"That was really nice," said Quinonez, who finished ninth in the standings at Remington Park with 26 victories before heading west.

The victory came in his ninth ride here.

"I didn't come here and expect to win, win, win," Quinonez said.

Quinonez's brother, Luis, who finished fifth at Remington with 46 wins, rode in northern California briefly in 1997.

Luis Quinonez's agent, Jerry Dilauras, suggested Belen come to northern California, and Dilauras is staying with Belen as he settles in. Dilauras contacted Ray Harris, Russell Baze's agent, about taking Quinonez's book, and Harris accepted.

"I saw him ride on TV from Remington," Harris said. "He's confident, keeps horses straight, and, when he's asked to get a horse on the lead, he gets him on the lead.

"Now that he's won a race here, it helps a lot. He hasn't gotten to ride favorites yet, but I want people to see what he looks like."

Quinonez grew up in Mexico, where he rode match races against his friends. When he came to the United States, he worked several years at a farm, learning to gallop horses.

He traveled with his brother, exercising horses and learning about race riding. He began his career at Canterbury Downs last summer, riding six winners there before heading to Remington.

When Remington concluded before Christmas, his brother and Dilauras suggested he try northern California.

"I didn't know anybody here," Quinonez said. "I feel kind of strange here. It's pretty lonely, but I've started talking to the valets, grooms, and trainers."

Quinonez has impressed trainers with his eagerness.

"I try to do everything the best I can," Quinonez said. "I listen to people and try to do the best I can. I want to make trainers happy.

"I'm still learning. I've got a long way to go because I've only been riding five months, but I'm learning every day."

Turf racing resumes

The main track has improved so much that consideration of running at Bay Meadows has been dismissed, and on Wednesday the first turf race will be run at Golden Gate Fields since Dec. 12. Two turf races have also been carded for Thursday.

Wednesday's turf race is the day's feature, a $25,000 optional claimer at one mile. Dear Daughter, second in her second U.S. start, at Hollywood Park on May 22, returns for trainer Neil Drysdale. The 5-year-old Dear Daughter was fifth in a pair of group stakes in Britain as a 3-year-old. She will have nine rivals.

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