06/18/2008 12:00AM

Assistant starter makes nice save


Credit assistant starter Rowland Darjean with an assist in Wanna Try Me's win on Sunday.

Darjean was handling the 3-year-old filly Wanna Try Me when she lunged through the gate and threw him to the ground. Darjean held on to the fractious filly, who was finally loaded in the gate after delaying the start for almost five minutes. She went on to win by 2o1/2 lengths as the even-money favorite.

Wanna Try Me was put on the starter's list following her last start three weeks ago when she was unruly at the gate and broke poorly. Trainer Adolfo Exposito had brought the filly to the gate three or four mornings each week to be schooled, and she finally calmed down under the patient handling of her exercise rider Roberta Grigg. She was approved to race by Thistledown starter Rick Walker.

"She was good in the morning but did not want to load in the afternoon," said Walker. "We tried everything we knew, but she stubbornly refused to load. I thought about scratching her but decided to try a bit more and we got her in the gate."

Wanna Try Me hopped out of the gate when the bell rang and was bumped by a rival. She trailed far back for the opening three furlongs of the six-furlong race, then got into her best stride and rallied for the victory in the $10,000 maiden claiming race under rider Luis Gonzalez.

If Darjean did not hang on when Wanna Try Me broke through the gate, she would have run off and likely would have been scratched, costing her connections a win.

Wanna Try Me is in the early stages of her racing career, but she had a lot of experienced people in her corner Sunday.

Owner Robert Van Worp, a trainer in his own right, is a third-generation horseman, as both his father and grandfather were trainers.

Exposito, her trainer, came from Cuba at the invitation of his his uncle, Frank Saumell, a former top rider on the Ohio-West Virginia circuit. Exposito worked as groom, pony boy, and exercise rider before taking out his trainer's license in 1967.

Walker's father and three uncles were all trainers. Walker started out as a groom, then worked as an assistant starter for 10 years before getting the starter's job five years ago

Darjean has been on the starting crew for eight years and has been galloping horses for 45 of his 60 years.

* Eighteen-year-old Kirsten Swan won her first race as a rider last Saturday on I'm For Lexi, who is trained by Ben Mumaw. She is the daughter of former rider Rhonda Swan and the stepdaughter of top local rider Scott Spieth.