05/26/2011 3:43PM

Belmont Park: Curatolo makes quick impact as apprentice rider

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Ryan Curatolo, a 19-year-old apprentice rider from France, brings home Can't Refuse at 53-1 in last Saturday's eighth race at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Winter time is usually the right time for apprentice riders to shine in New York. Someone forgot to tell that to Ryan Curatolo, a 19-year-old Frenchman who is serving notice this spring that he could be a star on the rise.

Through the first 19 days of the 56-day Belmont spring/summer meet, Curatolo has 14 winners from 76 mounts. By comparison sake, he rode 14 winners from 167 mounts during the entire Gulfstream Park meeting. His success at Belmont has included a four-win day on May 21 and multiple-win days on May 5, 6, and 25.

“I’m very surprised,’’ Curatolo said when asked his success in New York.

The last apprentice to really stand out during a Belmont spring/summer meet was Norberto Arroyo Jr., who won 45 races in 2000. Arroyo led the New York Racing Association circuit in wins that year and finished second in the Eclipse Award voting to Tyler Baze.

Curatolo, who stands 5-foot, 5-inches tall and tacks 110 pounds, is under contract to ride first-call for Carl Lizza’s Flying Zee Stables. Flying Zee was the third-leading owner on the NYRA circuit in 2010 with 35 wins. Already this year, Flying Zee has 24 wins, which leads all owners on this circuit.

“This kid’s got a lot of talent,’’ Lizza said Thursday morning. “I watched him down in Florida. [Patrick] Biancone trains for me and he had [Julien] Leparoux and he told me this kid will be as good as Leparoux and it looks like he’s tearing the place up here.’’

Leparoux did indeed start off as a first-call rider for Biancone in 2005. Leparoux won the 2006 Eclipse Award as North America’s leading apprentice as well as the Eclipse in 2009 as the top journeyman rider.

Like Leparoux, Curatolo is from France. Curatolo said his family was not involved in horse racing aside from the fact that his father liked to bet on horses. Curatolo said he and his family would visit south Florida for vacations when he was younger and that’s one reason he picked Calder to begin his career, something he did last fall after attending a jockey school in Paris for four years.

Curatolo started riding at Calder last October and gained his first win on Nov. 6. Through Thursday, he is up to 35 career victories. When he reaches 40 victories, he will drop two pounds off his apprentice and ride with a five fewer pounds than his journeyman rivals. He will ride as a five-pound apprentice until Dec. 16.

The only time Curatolo will not ride with a weight allowance is in stakes race such as Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes, when he rides Belle Watling for Flying Zee.

Though most of his wins have come for Flying Zee – whose roster of trainers includes Frank Martin, Carlos Martin, and Phil Serpe – Curatolo has ridden two winners for fellow Frenchmen Christophe Clement and one for Kiaran McLaughlin.

“He sits very well on a horse, he’s got good hands, and you can talk to him, which is nice,’’ Clement said. “Let’s hope he gets the guidance to make this a career.’’

Curatolo is represented by Tony Micallef, who recently split with Alan Garcia, for whom he worked for six years.

“Me and Alan had a great run, we’re good friends, it came to an end after six years, but I got very lucky,’’ Micallef said about hooking up with Curatolo. “He’s 19 years-old and he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s advanced for a bug.’’

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how long Curatolo would remain an apprentice.