07/18/2014 3:07PM

Bejarano returns a winner in comeback

Barbara D. Livingston
Rafael Bejarano returned on Thursday at Del Mar after suffering multiple injuries in a May 10 spill at Santa Anita.

DEL MAR, Calif. – For many reasons, jockey Rafael Bejarano was not eager to leave the winner’s circle after $32,000 claimer Affrettando prevailed by a nose in the 10th race on Thursday’s opening-day program.

In the moments after the winner’s circle ceremony, Bejarano was surrounded by several, let’s say, attractive well-wishers, all of whom wanted a cell phone photo. Bejarano was more than happy to oblige. He had waited for a moment like this for more than two months.

On May 10 at Santa Anita, Bejarano suffered a broken collarbone, shoulder blade, and rib in a one-horse spill on the hillside turf course. He resumed exercising horses earlier this month, targeting a comeback for opening day.

Affrettando was Bejarano’s seventh mount Thursday.

“I feel good,” Bejarano said on the walk from the winner’s circle to the jockeys’ room after the last race. “I got one today, and I’m so glad to be back.”

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Bejarano, 32, has a lofty reputation to uphold. He has won 18 riding titles at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita since arriving on the circuit in late 2007. Last year at Del Mar, Bejarano won the riding title with 46 wins, 18 more than Martin Garcia.

Bejarano will be challenged for the riding title by Joe Talamo, who won the title at the Santa Anita spring-summer meeting, and Drayden Van Dyke, the apprentice jockey who led the standings at the two-week Los Alamitos summer meeting that ended on July 13.

Talamo had one win on Thursday on Smack Talk, a 2-year-old first-time starter by Stormin Fever who won a five-furlong maiden race for California-breds by 3 1/4 lengths. Van Dyke had two wins on his first day of riding at Del Mar. Last summer, the 19-year-old exercised horses for trainer Tom Proctor and worked for his stable through the day.

Van Dyke, who began riding last November, said on Thursday evening that he was anxious for opening day to start.

“It was hard to sleep last night,” Van Dyke said. “I was pretty excited.”

Bejarano is booked to ride five of 11 races on Sunday, but does not have a mount in the $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes on turf, the day’s featured race.

:: Eddie Read: Get PPs, watch Sunday's card live

He rides first-time starter Partyin in the eighth race, a maiden contest for 2-year-olds fillies at five furlongs.

By Henny Hughes, Partyin is trained by Jeff Bonde, who has a large group of 2-year-olds ready to run at this meeting. The eighth race drew 10 2-year-old fillies, including Conquest Archangel, second in a maiden race at Churchill Downs on June 22, and first-time starter Luminance, purchased for $320,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale and trained by Bob Baffert.

Mark Casse trains Conquest Archangel, and may have a 2-year-old filly to follow in Diva Express, who starts in the fourth race, the first maiden race for 2-year-old fillies on the program. Diva Express, by Afleet Express, worked a half- mile in 47.40 seconds from the gate last Monday, her first work on the track since arriving from Churchill Downs.