02/23/2011 1:14PM

Brief change of scenery helps Duran rejuvenate riding career at Golden Gate

Coady Photography
Francisco Duran, who rode primarily at Emerald Downs last year, is back in top form at Golden Gate Fields.

ALBANY, Calif. – Even when he had a storybook apprentice year, Francisco Duran knew that being a jockey was a tough job.

He had no racetrack experience growing up and didn’t begin his riding career until he was 23.

In 2002, Duran rode 202 winners and was an Eclipse finalist as the nation’s leading apprentice. That year he beat out Russell Baze and Jason Lumpkins to win the San Mateo County Fair riding championship at Bay Meadows.

Duran has always been one of Northern California’s hardest working riders, and became a solid journeyman in the best sense of the word.

Last year, Duran recognized he needed a change.

“I just wanted to get out of Dodge,” he said. “I wanted to experience some new places and learn from new places.”

Duran wound up riding at Emerald Downs last year, finishing fourth in the jockey standings with 75 victories, rebuilding his confidence and rejuvenating his career.

“I was fortunate to ride a lot of horses for Frank Lucarelli,” he said. “I know I can do the job, but I had to have horses to help me accomplish what I want. I got a fresh start up there and felt confident when I came back.”

Duran, who rode his 1,000th winner here at Golden Gate Fields last March when he guided Karmalize to a victory in a three-way photo, is currently second in the Golden Gate standings with 31 victories.

What’s remarkable is that Duran, who rides regularly for solid trainers such as Lloyd Mason and Ed Moger, has only a limited number of mounts from Northern California’s power barns.

“It’s tough breaking into those barns,” Duran admits. “Those guys have established riders, but, hopefully, they’ll give me an opportunity. We’re trying to build up good relationships.”

Duran is attracting attention for his rides aboard Shudacudawudya. He guided the Mason-trained Shudacudawudya to a victory over multiple stakes winner Our Minesweeper after a year’s layoff and then finished second to Kinsale King last week.

“He’s very useful, very professional, and he tries hard,” said Duran, who gave the 4-year-old Shudacudawudya a perfect ride, taking him off the pace in his comeback.

He lost by only three-quarters of a length to Kinsale King, who was prepping to defend his Golden Shaheen Sprint title.

“He tried his heart out,” Duran said of the race against Kinsale King. “That was tough to run against a horse like that. To be that close was impressive.”

One key to Duran’s success at the meet is his ability to read the sometimes quirky Tapeta surface. Because he gets on a number of horses in the morning, he has seen the varying permutations of the track and tries to factor that into his rides.

“It can change from the morning to the afternoon, but it does help you see it better when you’re working horses,” he said. “It’s hard to know how the track will be. You have to adjust the best way you can, but you read it the best you can during the day.”

And, right now, Duran is reading it quite well.

Frey heads east

Agent Mark North, who has had success with apprentices such as Katie Rapp and Marcia Stortz at what was then known as Philadelphia Park, will take apprentice Kyle Frey to Parx Racing in suburban Philadelphia next week. Frey hopes to begin riding there on March 5.

Frey began his riding career late last year and has 10 victories from 118 mounts. He is currently 10th in the Golden Gate jockey standings with eight victories.

The 19-year-old Frey is heading east in hopes of gaining more mounts and has told North, “I’ll ride as many as I can as often as I can.”

North said he thinks Frey has a chance to do very well back east.

“I’ve always done well back there,” said North.

“I’m excited to work with Kyle. I saw him when he was first exercising horses. A few months ago when I came back from New Mexico, I saw how much he’d improved. He sits on a horse good, and he has no fear.

“He’s not afraid to work. He seems to improve every day. Some days you watch and say, ‘Check him out,’ and then another day, you see why he’s an apprentice, but he studies films every day out here with Paul Nicolo and is getting advice from riders such as Russell Baze and Leslie Mawing.”

Although Frey will be based at Parx, he will also ride at other nearby tracks on off days.

◗ “The Last Train From Bay Meadows,” a documentary covering the history of Bay Meadows racetrack from its opening in 1934 to its closing in 2008 with poignant backstage looks, is now available. The DVD costs $20 and can be ordered by going to www.km2communications.com and clicking on “store.”