05/05/2005 11:00PM

Call Caraballo a winning firster

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Jose Caraballo admits he was more than a little upset when he looked over the overnight sheet for the opening-day program at Delaware Park and saw he wasn't listed to ride in the first race.

Why should Caraballo care, you ask? Well, what might seem like a bit of racing trivia to some is actually a small claim to fame Caraballo points to with pride. For three years running, Caraballo had won the meet's first race at Delaware, a streak he feared was about to end last weekend.

"I was worried I would not even get the opportunity to keep the streak alive," Caraballo said.

"I called my agent, Joe French, and told him I want to ride something in that race. He told me there could be a couple options and we need some luck. The next day, before the 10 o'clock scratch time, I picked up the mount."

Caraballo, 39, capitalized on the opportunity by riding Apache Flyer ($16.20) to victory in a $5,000 claiming sprint, making it four years in a row he has won Delaware's first race of the new meet.

Interestingly, none of Caraballo's four winners was a heavy favorite. Last year, he rode Red Lava, a maiden trained by his wife, Aimee Hall, to win at $11.40. In 2003, he won aboard another maiden claimer, On Retainor ($7.20). In 2002, Caraballo connected the extreme longshot Quick Proposal ($94.80), a maiden trained by Hamilton Smith.

"It is a challenge now," said Caraballo about his first-race streak. "It is really nice to do it four years in a row. Next year, I will shoot for five."

Caraballo has ridden full time at Delaware since 2000. He finished sixth in the rider standings last year and fourth in 2003.

Early handle figures jump

Despite heavy rain and a sloppy track on opening day, Delaware's overall handle was up substantially on the first weekend of live racing.

Total handle on Delaware's first two programs last Saturday and Sunday was $2,712,610, a 21 percent increase from 2004, when total handle was $2,246,109 for the first Saturday and Sunday of the meet.

Zimmerman barn off to hot start

John Zimmerman's horses are clearly ready to win at the start of Delaware's meet.

R Maestro ($12.40), claimed at Gulfstream on March 7 for $25,000, won a first-level allowance last Sunday by 4 1/2 lengths.

Another Florida shipper, American Prince ($8.40), won opening day for Zimmerman on the drop from $25,000 to $16,000 claiming.

Two horses who made their most recent start at Laurel, Saltam ($6.20) and Trail Drive ($8.40), won on Monday's program.

Filly keeps winning at good odds

Gulfstream shipper Unforgettable Gal ($18.80) made it five wins in a row when she captured Tuesday's featured eighth race at Delaware, a second-level allowance.

A 4-year-old filly trained by Maria Pascual, Unforgettable Gal began her streak on Jan. 15 in a $16,000 claiming race. Bettors, unconvinced she is for real, have allowed Unforgettable Gal to go off at 22-1, 17-1, 7-1, and now 8-1 in four of her last five starts.

Motion mare takes to turf

It took Brightside 11 starts to win her maiden, and even then the 5-year-old mare barely got up by a nose.

Switched to turf for her most recent start on April 29, Brightside is now 2 for 2 since coming under Graham Motion's care after winning a first-level allowance at Pimlico by 3 3/4 lengths.

Marathon winner off long layoff

It's a difficult feat to get any horse to win off an 11-month layoff. When the comeback race is a marathon, it's even more of a challenge.

Trainer Sam Webb had the 7-year-old Mendham sharp enough for his first start since May 20, 2004, to win a $5,000 starter-allowance at 1 3/4 miles on the April 28 card at Penn National.

Facing five other horses, Mendham dropped back by as much as 12 lengths before jockey Carlos Nieto asked him to move the second time down the backstretch. Mendham ($6.80) overtook the early leaders, Forever Monteiro and 4-5 favorite Tiffany Gold, in the span of a quarter-mile and drew clear to win by 5 1/4 lengths in the time of 3:07.22.

It was the sixth win in 32 career starts for Mendham. Webb, who also owns Mendham in partnership with Anthony Fontana, claimed the horse for $10,000 from trainer Gary Contessa in September 2003 at Monmouth Park.

Munar closing in on 2,000

Jockey Luis Munar is approaching 2,000 wins for his career. Going into Friday night's Penn National program, Munar had 1,997 victories.

A Penn regular since 1992, Munar won 230 or more races during four straight seasons, from 1993 to 1996, including 301 in his best year, 1995.