03/03/2006 1:00AM

Bracho in the thick of things


Under different circumstances, Richard Bracho might be getting more notice this winter at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. But with Julien Leparoux having dominated the Turfway jockey colony to such a lopsided degree - a 22-year-old apprentice, Leparoux led all North American jockeys this year with 108 wins through Thursday night - there has been precious little ink or airtime expended on any other rider.

Still, Bracho is doing strong work in his first pass through Kentucky. After riding two winners Thursday night, the 35-year-old native of Caracas, Venezuela, was fourth in the standings - and making a solid bid for second - at the Turfway winter-spring meet that began Jan. 1 and ends April 6. While Leparoux's record towers above all else, a scramble is developing among Willie Martinez (32), Jason Lumpkins (28), and Bracho (26) for runner-up honors.

"Everybody's happy," Bracho said Friday morning from Lexington, Ky., where he is living with family members. "My sister has lived in Lexington for 12 years, and this winter I wanted to try Kentucky."

Bracho, who is represented by agent John Herbstreit, began riding in the United States in the spring of 2003, starting out with little fanfare at Delaware Park and Atlantic City. He soon moved to Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands, where he won a total of 52 races and began attracting the notice of New Jersey horsemen.

In the two years that followed, Bracho became known as a solid journeyman in Florida and on the Eastern seaboard, as he rode an additional 99 winners before moving to Turfway in December. He said he intends to ride the spring meet at Keeneland in April but might head back soon thereafter to Monmouth, where he has fared well the past three summers.

"For my first time in Kentucky, it has been very good," he said.

Butler credits his roots

When jockey Dean Butler hit the 1,000-win milestone last Sunday, it made him think back to his beginnings in racing.

"The first people to really help me out were Dennis and Cheryl Werre in the late 1980's," said Butler. "They were working for Jack Van Berg in New York and Southern California, and they taught me everything from the bottom up, including how to ride a horse."

Butler, who grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., as the last of eight siblings, also said his family has been highly instrumental in a career that began in 1992.

"My mom and dad, my seven brothers and sisters, my wife, LeAnn, and hundreds of horsemen have all been incredibly supportive throughout my career," he said.

Butler, 34, moved to Kentucky in 2002 after riding for nearly 10 years back East, primarily in New Jersey.

New health precautions at Churchill

As precautionary measures intended to safeguard the May 6 Kentucky Derby and its upcoming spring meet, Churchill Downs is enforcing a new and stricter policy in regard to stabling procedures at the Louisville track.

The new policy, which requires updated health certificates and vaccinations, is being implemented in the aftermath of the equine herpesvirus outbreaks in recent months at Turfway and Maryland.

Churchill will reopen its stable area March 11.

* The Louisville Courier-Journal has launched a web site that allows Derby fans to analyze thoroughly more than 500 3-year-olds. The site utilizes a range of racing information sources, including Daily Racing Form past performances and Beyer Speed Figures. The fastest link is courier-journal.com/datatrack.