07/24/2008 11:00PM

Bejarano remains white hot


DEL MAR, Calif. - Even by his standards, Rafael Bejarano is off to a spectacular start at Del Mar this summer.

Through Thursday, the eighth day of the 43-day meeting, Bejarano had 13 wins from 41 mounts, a staggering strike rate of 32 percent. He has already won riding titles at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting and Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting in his first full year of riding in California.

"I feel very confident," he said. "I love Del Mar. I want to be leading rider. We'll see if that happens."

Through Thursday, Bejarano had a five-race lead on Tyler Baze, with Joel Rosario third with seven wins. No other rider had more than four victories.

Bejarano, 26, had two wins on Thursday - Pack Your Bags ($9.20) in the fourth race for $25,000 claimers, and Doppio ($10.20) in the seventh race, an optional claimer. In both races, Bejarano timed the ride perfectly, bringing his mounts from off the pace.

After Doppio's win, he admitted he should have had three wins. In the sixth race, Bejarano's mount, Mr. Chairman, fought through traffic to finish second to Swift Winds, who had a better trip with a wide rally.

"I tried to come through between horses," Bejarano said. "It didn't happen."

Taken in the context of history, Bejarano will not break any records at this meeting. He is well behind pace to reach the all-time record of 94 wins at this meeting, set by Bill Shoemaker in 1954. Laffit Pincay has come closest to that mark in the last 30 years, winning 76 races in 1979. Last year, Michael Baze won the title with 50 wins.

Bejarano was scheduled to ride at Saratoga on Saturday, but is due back at Del Mar on Sunday, with eight mounts on the nine-race program. He rides the outsider Sailors Sunset in the $300,000 Bing Crosby Handicap for sprinters.

"That's the best two places in the world to be right now - Saratoga and Del Mar," he said.

Through this summer, Bejarano will be looking for a top older horse. He was the regular rider of Heatseeker, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and Californian Stakes earlier this year. Heatseeker was retired earlier this summer because of an ankle injury.

"I feel so bad," Bejarano said.

Bejarano still has an outstanding mare in Ginger Punch, the 2007 Eclipse Award winner as the nation's outstanding older female. He was booked to ride her in the Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga on Saturday. Last fall, Bejarano had a tattoo commemorating Ginger Punch's win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff drawn on his right shoulder blade.

"She's very special to me," he said.

Doppio earns shot at Pat O'Brien

Doppio seems to have found a home in $100,000 claiming races this year. His win on Thursday in an optional claimer was his second victory at that level. In between wins, Doppio was eighth in the Grade 2 Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland and eighth in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap.

Those losses were far from the mind of owner Keith Brackpool after Thursday's race. Brackpool was so excited watching the replay on the infield television outside the winner's circle that he began cheering as Doppio rallied wide from seventh in an eight-horse field.

A 6-year-old gelding, Doppio has fought through numerous injuries to win 9 of 18 starts and $291,760. The victory made him a candidate for the $300,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap over seven furlongs on Aug. 24.

"He's kind of like a member of the family," trainer Carla Gaines said. "We bought him as a yearling. He's had his problems, but he keeps coming back."

Doppio has made five starts this year, which equals the most races in a season for his career. Planning a full campaign for Doppio is a bit of a change for Gaines.

"He doesn't go that far without having to stop for ailments," she said.

Firsters may need a start

Between them, trainers Bob Baffert and Dan Hendricks train five of the seven 2-year-old fillies entered in a six-furlong maiden special weight race on Sunday. Neither is certain he has the winner.

Baffert trains the first-time starters Toro Bonito and Century Park.

"They'll both need a race," Baffert said. "They've been working well. They come from off the pace; they're not that quick."

Toro Bonito, by El Corredor, is owned by breeders Hal and Patti Earnhardt. Century Park, by General Meeting, is owned by breeder Don Dizney. Both fillies have two workouts each over the Del Mar track.

Hendricks has three first-time starters - Imforeal, who is a half-brother to the millionaire Brother Derek, and Dreamalong and Singita.

Imforeal is a California-bred by In Excess owned by Cecil Peacock, who campaigned Brother Derek. Peacock paid $310,000 for Imforeal at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale.

"She's quick, but I haven't set her down, so I'm not sure," Hendricks said. "Most of mine aren't cranked down first time out."

Alex Solis Jr., the son of the jockey, is a partner in Dreamalong, who was purchased for $130,000 at the 2007 Keeneland sale. Dreamalong is a half-sister to Lavender Sky, who was third in the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap earlier this year.

"She's all grass," Solis said of Dreamalong.

Craig Dollase starts Dream Sweeper, a Salt Lake filly who is a half-sister to Dream Rush, the winner of the Grade 1 Test Stakes last year. Dream Sweeper has shown quick workouts at Hollywood Park in recent weeks.

The only filly in the field with racing experience is Empressive Lady, who finished seventh after a slow start at Hollywood Park on June 15. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Empressive Lady will wear blinkers for the first time.

* Midnight Lute, the champion sprinter of 2007, worked five furlongs in 58.60 seconds on Thursday, which equaled the fastest of 60 recorded works at the distance. Trainer Bob Baffert said Midnight Lute is a candidate for the Pat O'Brien or the $250,000 Forego Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 30.