03/07/2008 12:00AM

Bug rider Morales making big strides

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When he arrived in town Wednesday, few people had heard of him and his name was even misspelled in the program.

It didn't take long for Sebastian - not Sabastian - Morales to catch people's attention, however. After riding two winners from his first eight mounts, Morales has created a bit of buzz on the backstretch as this inexperienced yet seemingly talented 22-year-old rider tries to launch his career.

"I think he has a gift,'' said jockey Carlos Montalvo, who rode with Morales at Tampa Bay Downs in January and February.

Morales, a native of Guerrero a state on the Pacific coast of Mexico, has been riding races for only 10 weeks, but he has been on horseback in this country for four years. According to Morales, who speaks little English, he has galloped horses for Hall of Fame trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Billy Mott.

In the last two years, he has worked as an exercise rider in the Mid-Atlantic region at Delaware Park and Monmouth Park. Among the trainers he worked for was Julian Canet, who believes Morales has a big future, and Frank Costa.

"I thought he had good hands, and he was very light, and he's a gentleman,'' said Canet, who is stabled at Belmont this winter. "He was always laughing; he always pays attention. When he first got here I said, 'You got to ride this track on the inside whatever you do.' "

Morales heeded that advice in his first mount here on Wednesday. He never left the fence aboard 10-1 shot Cherna, taking advantage the instant an opening developed and guiding the horse to victory.

That move caught the attention of Gary Contessa, who was the trainer of the favorite in that race.

"He looks like he's got some guts, which you want to see,'' said Contessa, who added he would use Morales on some horses. "My feeling is if you're going to use a bug boy the weight alone doesn't make a bug boy. You want to see him a little kamikaze-like and take chances and try hard to win. He seems to have those factors going for him.''

Morales came back on Thursday to win a maiden race aboard Waymint, who had lost her previous 19 starts. Though he went winless on two mounts Friday, Morales actually rode well to finish fourth on 85-1 shot Halation in the finale.

Overall, Morales has won 8 races from his first 56 mounts. He could not have timed his arrival in New York any better. The number of active apprentice riders has dwindled to two after Jermaine Bridgmohan, Carol Cedeno, and Aldo Arboleda all recently lost their apprentice status and the five-pound weight allowance that goes with it.

Angel Arroyo, currently out of the country because his mother passed away, officially becomes a journeyman rider on Monday. Kyle Branch, another apprentice, is ill and sidelined indefinitely, leaving just Morales and Emanuel De Diego as the room's only bug riders.

Morales is represented by Paul DeMarco, who said he would like to keep Morales in New York as long as he can. DeMarco said if the opportunities dry up here when Belmont opens, he would consider taking Morales to Monmouth Park for the summer.

Arboleda nursing sore ribs

Meanwhile, Arboleda was hospitalized Thursday night with pain in his left rib cage after Top Heavy, his mount in Thursday's nightcap, went down at the eighth pole. Arboleda was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where he remained overnight.

DeMarco, Arboleda's agent, said initial X-rays did not reveal any fractures, but that the rider remained overnight to undergo further tests on Friday. Arboleda was off his mounts Friday and Saturday and was not named on any horses Sunday. Aqueduct is dark Monday and Tuesday.

Arboleda picked up the mount aboard Top Heavy when Pablo Fragoso couldn't ride. Top Heavy appeared to take a bad step at eighth pole and went down, sending Arboleda hard to the ground. Top Heavy got up and galloped away, seemingly uninjured.

Rite Moment romps on stretch-out

As well as Rite Moment has run sprinting, she was even more impressive in her two-turn debut Thursday, rolling to a 13 1/4-length victory in Thursday's The Limit Stakes at Aqueduct. She ran the mile and 70 yards around two turns in 1:41.02 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.

She is trained by Contessa, who said he entered Rite Moment in the stakes only after sprint races he entered her in didn't fill. Rite Moment had won two allowance races and finished second in the Correction Handicap, all at six furlongs.

"I called the owners and said this is a good time to try her long when there's nowhere else to go with her,'' said Contessa, who trains Rite Moment for Winning Move Stable, Steve Seidman, and John Moirano "I'm glad I did.''

Now it's Contessa's phone that's ringing - with offers to sell.

He said that if he still has Rite Moment at the end of the month, she would most likely run in the Grade 3, $100,000 Next Move Handicap. Contessa plans to run Runway Rosie, the Rare Treat winner, in the Next Move.

A couple of other Next Move candidates had workouts on Friday. Wow Me Free, who won the Ladies Handicap in December, went five furlongs in 59.92 seconds over the Belmont training track. Stage Luck, who won the Affectionately, went five furlongs in 1:02.81.

Christmas Kid goes back to the track

Christmas Kid, winner of last year's Grade 1 Ashland Stakes, returned to trainer Jimmy Jerkens's Belmont Park barn this week to begin training toward a 4-year-old campaign.

Christmas Kid has not raced since finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Lake Placid Handicap at Saratoga last August. She was given time off after that and then got sick on the farm, according to Steve Moyer, Jerkens's assistant.

"She's filled out well, really put a lot of weight on,'' said Moyer, who noted that Christmas Kid probably wouldn't be ready to run before May.

Max's Bid seeks repeat

Max's Bid has raised his game this winter, and his connections will find out just how much on Sunday when he meets six rivals in a first-level allowance race at six furlongs.

Max's Bid is 3 for 4 this year with a head loss his only blemish. Max's Bid won claiming races at Laurel Park and Aqueduct. He was claimed by trainer Enrique Arroyo on Feb. 16 then came back 12 days later and won a starter allowance by 1 1/2 lengths.

Sunday, he'll try to run down Southern Prince - who makes his first start for Contessa, who claimed the gelding for $50,000 from Steve Asmussen last out.

Good Card, who drops out of two statebred stakes tries, and Joaquin Memphis, a winner of two straight New York-bred allowance heats, are other contenders in this race.

* Bustin Stones, the General George Handicap winner, worked five furlongs in 1:03.41 Friday morning as he begins preparation for the Grade 1 Carter Handicap here on April 5.