03/02/2002 1:00AM

Arrivals and departures


OLDSMAR Fla. - Trainer Gerald Bennett, who won a stakes during his three-month stay here, has shipped his string to Sportsman's Park, which began its meet Friday. All indications are that Bennett will have a powerful string for that Chicago track's winter stand.

Jockey Tommy Pompell, one of the pleasant surprises of this meeting, also has headed for Chicago. Pompell, who won 21 races from 112 mounts, and won over fans and horsemen alike with his hard-driving style, returns to Illinois hoping to make his mark on the Chicago circuit. Pompell began his career at Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Ill.

While others make plans to move to other parts of the country, Joe Rocco Jr. has returned to Tampa Bay Downs, where he was the leading apprentice several years ago. Rocco, frustrated by small fields and limited opportunities on the Maryland circuit this winter, arrived here last week and wasted little time getting started, winning two races in his first week on the scene.

It's hard to believe, but Rocco doesn't turn 20 until July. He started riding when he was 16 and, while his apprenticeship period was marked by injuries and indecision about what circuit he would call home, he has found a niche at Delaware Park. Rocco ranked 11th in the standings at that track last year in a riding colony that included Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Jeremy Rose, Michael McCarthy, Harry Vega, and Ramon Dominguez.

Rocco's plans for the winter included committments to ride a number of horses at Philadelphia Park for perennial power Bob Camac, but all that changed when the trainer and his wife were brutally murdered in early December.

With Delaware Park opening three weeks later than in past years, Rocco plans to stay here well into the meeting. His smooth, fluid riding style and good work ethic should earn him increasingly more business as the meeting continues and other riders depart for northern circuits.

Trainer Bob Peterson has been hot of late, winning with three of his last nine starters. Richard Paulus has also been sharp, winning with two of his last five runners.

Manoel Cruz continues his hot pace. Cruz posted a riding triple on Friday to move into a tie for second in the standings with Pedro Rodriguez. Cruz and Rodriguez have been gaining ground on leading rider T.D. Houghton and suddenly there's the prospect of a jockeys' race here. Houghton has 46 winners, while Cruz and Pedro Rodriguez are tied with 38 each, six more than Juan Umana's 32 victories.