08/15/2006 12:00AM

In battle for jockey title, best man won

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Luis Garcia never had won a riding title, but his name sat atop the standings as the 41-day Colonial Downs meet was nearing a close last weekend. Garcia faced a serious dilemma: Should he ride the last two programs to protect his narrow lead, or serve as the best man at the weddings of two of his best friends?

Garcia, 21, chose to leave Colonial in New Kent, Va., for the final two days of racing last Friday and Saturday, returning to Maryland to be the best man for fellow jockeys Eric Camacho and Richard Monterrey.

His decision paid off in both ways.

Garcia departed Colonial with a four-win lead over Horacio Karamanos, and after Karamanos was blanked Friday and won just two races on the Saturday closer, Garcia was the leading rider by a 42-40 count.

Meanwhile, Garcia had a busy and fulfilling weekend back home in Maryland. After attending the wedding rehearsals on Friday, he was in Camacho's wedding in Severn on Saturday afternoon, then hurried over to Laurel to be in Monterrey's wedding that evening. He even had to change tuxedos.

"One was white and the other was black," he said.

Garcia, whose girlfriend is the standout Maryland apprentice Rosie Napravnik, said he had no qualms about missing the last two days of the Colonial meet and putting a major career milestone at risk. He said his bonds of friendship with Camacho, a Baltimore native, and Monterrey, from Venezuela, were too important for him to miss such special occasions.

"They were there all the time when I needed them," said Garcia, who in 2003 was the second-leading apprentice in North America in wins with 179. "Everybody at the weddings were asking me how I did that, and I said it was easy."

Numbers up overall, down ontrack

Meanwhile, business at the Colonial meet was mixed, with gross all-sources wagering reaching an all-time high but ontrack numbers slumping by double-digit percentages.

All-sources handle for the 41-day meet was nearly $51.6 million, equating to an average of $1,258,193 per card. The average handle was 13 percent better than in 2005, when 40 programs were conducted. The increase was directly attributable to growth in the simulcast market, with Colonial races drawing more than $43.8 million from offtrack bettors. Field size averaged 8.7 starters for the third straight year.

Ontrack, the news was not nearly as good. Average attendance was 1,804, a decrease of 11 percent from last year, while wagering averaged $150,556, also down 11 percent.

Besides Garcia and his first jockey title, other Colonial winners were trainer Hamilton Smith, whose 20 victories gave him his fourth Colonial title, and owner David Ross, whose 23 winners were more than the next four top owners combined.