03/18/2009 12:00AM

Bejarano's title streak in jeopardy


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Rafael Bejarano and his agent, Joe Ferrer, thought about the question for a moment and finally shrugged.

What has been the highlight of the current Santa Anita meeting? Neither could find an answer.

"I can't remember," Ferrer said. "If he can't remember, I can't remember."

From a stakes point of view, the answer is probably Soldier's Dancer's victory in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf in January, one of nine stakes wins by Bejarano at the meeting. For a jockey, such as Bejarano, who swept the five riding titles at major meetings in Southern California last year, it was not a win that immediately came to mind.

Bejarano's streak of riding titles may end this spring. Through Sunday, he was second in the standings to Garrett Gomez, trailing 73-60. Bejarano has until April 19 to reach the top and may have a few factors in his favor. Gomez is riding at Turfway Park on Saturday and at Gulfstream Park and Sunland Park on March 28-29.

In April, Gomez will ride primarily at Keeneland, with the exception of April 4 and April 12.

Bejarano, 27, has only one out-of-town engagement in the near future. He will ride Papa Clem if his connections decide to run in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 11. There will be quite a few days in the next month when Bejarano will not be competing against Gomez at Santa Anita.

"You want to win everything," Ferrer said. "If it happens, it happens. When you win five meetings in a row, you want to keep winning, but you'll get beat every once in a while."

Last year, Bejarano won the riding title with 67 winners, four more than Gomez. This year, Bejarano has not been entirely thrilled with his meeting.

"So far, it's good," Bejarano said on Wednesday morning, between workouts. "But it's been a little slow."

Bejarano will need to be in top form to win the title. Not only will Gomez prove difficult to catch, but Bejarano has only a one-win advantage over Joel Rosario through Sunday.

Eventually, Papa Clem could be the horse that springs to Bejarano's mind when he recalls the events of this spring. Papa Clem was second in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds last weekend, and needs another strong performance in either the Arkansas Derby or the Illinois Derby on April 4 to justify a trip to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on May 2.

"He learned a lot back there," Bejarano said of Papa Clem. "He's a special horse."

Saturday, Bejarano can win his 10th stakes of the meeting when Artiste Royal starts in the $250,000 San Luis Rey Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Bejarano was aboard Artiste Royal for a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf on March 7.

It was not Bejarano's best hour. Turning for home, Bejarano steered Artiste Royal to the inside and was stuck behind horses at a pivotal stage, losing by two lengths to Gio Ponti.

The Grade 2 San Luis Rey has drawn a field of seven. Spring House, the winner of the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap here on Feb. 22, and Artiste Royal, who won the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes here on Jan. 19, share top weight of 118 pounds.

The Pamplemousse works quickly on his own

The Pamplemousse, one of California's best hopes for the Kentucky Derby, worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

The winner of the San Rafael Stakes and Sham Stakes earlier this year, The Pamplemousse is a leading contender for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4.

In Wednesday's workout, The Pamplemousse worked alone, well off the rail, under jockey Alex Solis.

"I just sat on him and let him do his thing," Solis said. "I was told to get a minute out of him and we went in" 59.80 seconds.

"He's deceiving. He doesn't feel like he's going that fast, but he puts in a fast time. It's scary to think about."

Trained by Julio Canani, The Pamplemousse has won 3 of 5 starts and $209,280.

Few willing to face favorites in derby

The Santa Anita Derby is unlikely to have a large field.

Aside from The Pamplemousse, the leading contender is Pioneerof the Nile, who won his third consecutive graded stakes in the Grade 2 San Felipe last Saturday. Chocolate Candy, the winner of the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields earlier this year, is another intended starter.

There will not be many more. Trainers with horses that have run behind The Pamplemousse and Pioneerof the Nile seemed determined to avoid another start against them in the near future.

Plans have not been finalized for Feisty Suances or Jeranimo, who were second and third behind Pioneerof the Nile in the San Felipe. Trainer Darrell Vienna said on Wednesday that the Santa Anita Derby "is not on top of our list" for Feisty Suances.

Jeranimo is "50-50" for the Santa Anita Derby, trainer Mike Pender said. He said a decision on Jeranimo's next start will be made this weekend.

Kelly Leak, the winner of an allowance race on turf in February, will make his next start in the $800,000 Sunland Derby at Sunland Park on March 29, trainer Mike Machowsky said.

Longtime trainer Berry dies at 83

Rick Berry, who trained nearly every breed of horses racing in California in recent decades, died after a brief illness on March 12, his family said. He was 83.

Berry was hospitalized in Torrance, Calif., at the time of his death.

A World War II veteran, Berry trained Appaloosas, Arabians, Paints, Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds. For the last 15 years, he concentrated on Thoroughbreds, racing primarily in Southern California.

On March 1, Berry's 4-year-old gelding Fantasy Free won a $20,000 claimer at Santa Anita. Fantasy Free is trained by Mike Marlow.

A memorial service for Berry will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at Arlington Mortuary, 9645 Magnolia Ave., in Riverside, Calif. A military honor guard will be present at the service.

Berry is survived by his daughter, Kimberly Frasca, and three grandsons.