10/05/2004 11:00PM

Bejarano in full bloom now

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Four-Footed Fotos
Jockey Rafael Bejarano comes into the Keeneland meet with a full head of steam.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Rafael Bejarano has accomplished a whole lot since he last rode at Keeneland, where he won with just 7 of 86 mounts at the spring meet in April.

Bejarano notched the first Grade 1 win of his career, the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 12. He rode in his first Triple Crown race, the Preakness on May 15. He won the

riding title at the Churchill spring meet, unseating perennial champion Pat Day. He won another riding title at Ellis Park, another at Turfway Park, and set a record at Kentucky Downs for winners in a meet.

All the while, Bejarano extended the lead he has held the entire year atop the North American jockey standings for wins, having won 385 races through last weekend.

Oh, and the native of Arequipa, Peru, turned all of 22 on June 23.

"It's been a huge year for us," said Bejarano's agent, Steve Elzey.

Nonetheless, with big-timers such as Gary Stevens, Edgar Prado, Jose Santos, and Corey Nakatani occasionally popping in to join Day, Robby Albarado, and other top jockeys at the 17-day fall meet, which starts Friday at Keeneland, the next three weeks should prove very interesting in terms of how Bejarano fares in his return to Lexington.

"We're loaded for the meet, but a lot of times you have to depend on the luck of the draw and what happens the first few days at a short meet like this," said Elzey. "You're always hoping to be leading rider, but so is Albarado and so is Day. I'd have to think we're one of the three that have the best shot."

Day was the leading rider in the spring, followed by Shane Sellers, who currently is on a self-imposed hiatus because of an insurance-related matter. Albarado was third, while Bejarano wound up in a tie for seventh.

Six months, however, could make a big difference. Bejarano brings tons of momentum to this meet, as evidenced by all the calls that Elzey is fielding, not only from Kentucky trainers but from those from other circuits. Having been the leading rider at every meet he has ridden since April, Bejarano figures to be far more prominent this time around.

Day's 900th win coming soon

Day, by far the all-time leading rider here, is sitting on another milestone: he is just two wins away from No. 900 at Keeneland. Look for Day to get live mounts in stakes, allowances, and maiden-special races, but sticking to the philosophy that he has adopted in recent years, he will ride maybe six or seven races per day, versus an entire card for Bejarano.

Day, who will turn 51 on Wednesday, is the leading active jockey in career wins and is third overall, behind the retired Laffit Pincay Jr. and the deceased Bill Shoemaker.

Private Horde's seen enough of Breeders' Cup

The trainers of several horses in Friday's Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland are hoping their horses run well enough to earn a start in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Joe Cain, trainer of Private Horde, has his eye on another prize: the Grade 1, $300,000 Frank DeFrancis Dash at Laurel Park Nov. 20.

Last year, owner Billy Tucker put up $90,000 to supplement Private Horde to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, a race in which he finished ninth of 13 runners. A wide and troubled trip contributed to his poor finish, Cain said.

With a full field commonplace year after year in the Sprint, Cain said he would rather focus on the De Francis Dash, a race that may not be as demanding. "Last year we had the experience of the Breeders' Cup," he said. "I don't think we need to do it again."

Private Horde, a 5-year-old Brunswick horse, has not been as successful in 2004 as he was last year, although he showed signs of returning to his best form with a win in the Marfa Stakes at Turfway Sept. 25. He is 2-3-0 in 7 starts this year with earnings of $126,175. He went 6-2-0 in 9 races in 2003, winning $411,582. That year he won the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

His highlight this year has been the Marfa, a race he won by three-quarters of a length under jockey Orlando Mojica. He ran quickly, covering 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.18. He earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, just 2 Beyer points off the figure he earned in winning the Marfa in similar time last year.

With Mojica breaking his arm in a spill in the second race at Turfway on Sunday, the Phoenix mount goes to Mark Guidry. It will be his first ride aboard Private Horde.

Mojica is expected to be away from riding for approximately three weeks, said his agent, Steve Elzey.

Purses differ slightly in spring and fall

Although purse levels at the Keeneland fall meet are essentially the same as in the spring - about $600,000 per day, tops at any North American track - there are a few subtle differences in the condition book between the two meets.

Most notably, purses for allowance races are lower in the fall than spring, with the overall difference made up primarily in stakes and with slightly higher claiming purses. While maiden-special races at both meets are worth $50,000 (including Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses), the gradation of purses to first-, second-, and third-level allowance level is lower than in the spring.

Purses at those levels this fall are 52,000-54,000-56,000, whereas in the spring they were 54,000-58,000-62,000 (both scales include KTDF).

"We've actually written the book like that the last few years," said Keeneland racing secretary Ben Huffman. "There is a prevailing sentiment that maybe the competition is just a little tougher in the spring, although obviously there is a valid argument for keeping the same levels at both meets."

* Darley Stud, sponsor of the Alcibiades Stakes, has become the third local breeding farm to offer "Best Turned Out" awards to grooms at Keeneland. Before every race Friday, a groom will be awarded $500 for leading over the horse judged to strike the best appearance.

Darley joins Shadwell and Lane's End as farms to offer the "BTO" awards.

* Modeled after a similar program at Siro's at Saratoga, a new handicapping seminar is being offered every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the renovated Furlong's restaurant in Lexington. Hosted by Pete Kules and Mike Penna, the seminar includes a buffet brunch and other amenities. Cost is $15. For more information, call (859) 608-5532.

- additional reporting by Byron King

At a glance: Keeneland

RACING SCHEDULE: 17 days; Friday through Oct. 30; dark Mondays and Tuesdays

POST TIME: General, $3; reserved seats are additional at varying prices; clubhouse is private

ADMISSIONS: General, $3; reserved seats are additional at varying prices; clubhouse is private

PARKING: General, free; valet, for clubhouse members only

AVERAGE PURSES: About $600,000 per day

LOCATION: Six miles west of downtown Lexington, Ky., on U.S. 60

PHONE: (859) 254-3412 or (800) 456-3412

INTERNET: www.keeneland.com