01/01/2005 12:00AM

Castanon outbreaks field

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - When a jockey gets in the "zone," it seems like nothing but good things happen. One example is Jesus Castanon, who has been riding with rare focus in the early part of the meeting.

Through Friday's program, Castanon, who emerged from a long battle with T.D. Houghton to take last year's riding title, had won 18 races from 54 mounts for a dazzling 33 percent win rate. He has won four races on a program twice and is the leading money earner in the jockeys' room. In short, he has been putting on quite a show.

So how does one explain such an explosive start at a track where the jocks' room is overflowing with riders?

"It's just a matter of getting on live horses who are placed right and are ready to run," said Don Hill, Castanon's agent. "We've been fortunate that many of the outfits we've committed to are off to good start, like the [Anthony] Pecoraro barn, and while we're not riding for a few clients we rode for in the past, we've also picked up some new outfits.

"We've also had some good support from horsemen from Miami. Jesus rode down there for a while and we made some good contacts during that time. Horses from Miami usually do well here."

Don't think Castanon's fast start has taken Houghton out of the picture. Last year's comeback kid - he returned from a serious injury to finish second to Castanon last season - Houghton has been hot of late, and has 11 winners.

Among trainers, Pecoraro has won 6 races from 17 starts to sprint to the front. Castanon was aboard for all of those victories.

Beautiful Honor right at home

Superlative efforts are not necessarily confined to stakes, and a perfect example of that was the race Beautiful Honor turned in in her first start of the meet, Dec. 18. A Double Honor filly owned by Martin Cherry, Beautiful Honor had been knocking heads with some tough ones at Calder this past summer and fall while in the Marty Wolfson barn. She was sent here to trainer Ray Tamargo and wasted little time letting the public know her new home suits her just fine.

Under Castanon, Beautiful Honor cut out fractions of 22.15 seconds and 45.76 and won the 5 1/2-furlong allowance race by 9 3/4 lengths in 1:04.68, with plenty left in the tank.

Beautiful Honor's next start may come in the $60,000 Sandpiper Stakes at six furlongs here on Jan. 15.

Rice back on top of game

A lot of folks were ready to write off trainer Don Rice after the seven-time leading trainer here won just 17 races last season, but Rice has shown recently he is far from through in this business.

On Dec. 26, Rice sent out Off the Chain, who rallied late for a $46.80 upset despite moving from the $4,000 level at Finger Lakes to the $7,500 level here. Rice turned some heads the same day with Dry Ice.

Dry Ice had been beaten more than 45 lengths in his first start of the season after having been off since June. But after Dry Ice worked a sharp five furlongs, Rice wheeled him back on 12 days' rest and the old pro responded by posting his 16th career win to the tune of a $35.80 payoff.