11/16/2005 1:00AM

With Castro out, Cruz gets his chance


MIAMI - Jockey Manoel Cruz has been one of the premier jockeys on this circuit since his arrival here three years ago, although his only riding title during that period came in 2003 B.C. - Before Castro. But on Sunday, without even winning a race, Cruz suddenly became the overwhelming favorite to capture the Tropical at Calder riding championship after jockey Eddie Castro decided to withdraw appeals of three of the four separate riding suspensions he has received during the course of the season.

Castro's suspension could last into the second week of December. According to state steward Kevin Scheen, Castro's riding infractions date back to May 23.

"He's already withdrawn three appeals and we expect the fourth to be withdrawn this week," said Scheen. "Right now he's looking at serving at least 12 days and in all likelihood will be out 17 days if he drops the final appeal. If that's the case, he would be eligible to return on Dec. 8. Under Florida statutes he can still ride designated stakes races while under suspension, but then he must serve an additional day for each day he rides in those stakes, which would then extend his overall suspension a bit further."

Cruz has finished second behind Castro in each meet since Castro's career skyrocketed here during the fall of 2003. Cruz won 198 races during the recently concluded Calder session, eclipsing the old single-meet mark of 193 set by Walter Guerra 26 years earlier, but still finished a distant second behind Castro, who won a record-breaking 218 races here this spring and summer.

Castro won four races on Saturday, including three stakes, and is third among North American jockeys with 305 victories this year, trailing only Russell Baze and Rodney Prescott.

Cruz began serving a three-day suspension himself on Sunday, and was scheduled to return Friday. He has continued to hold a hot hand since the beginning of the Tropical meeting and goes into Friday's card with a three-victory advantage over Castro. Cruz is ranked sixth nationally with 282 victories.

The absence of both Cruz and Castro, who between them have won nearly a third of the races run here this year, created opportunities for some of their colleagues this past week. On Sunday, Jorge Chavez won three races and Abdiel Toribio a pair. On Monday, seldom-used jockey Elmer Nunez turned in a riding double, as did Cecilio Penalba.

Five trainers suspended

Trainer suspensions also made news here this week with five horsemen sitting out 15-day penalties after horses tested positive for the drug glycopyrrolate, or Robinul as it is more commonly known. The trainers suspended were Julian Canet, Richard Ciardullo Jr., Herbert Miller, Kirk Ziadie, and Ralph Ziadie. Some of the positive tests date back to last December, although the horsemen said they were not informed of those specific positives until this summer.

"Robinul is a Class 3 drug that's been around a long time," said Scheen. "Just why we're suddenly getting a rash of positives now, I can't say. These are not considered major suspensions by any means, and as a result we're allowing all horses in the care of trainers under suspension to be switched over into the names of the assistant trainers so they can still compete during the period of those suspensions."

Scheen described Robinul as a "mild bronchodilator," although one of the suspended trainers said the drug is commonly used to control bleeding.

Workouts conducted on slow track

The track was extremely cuppy and slow during training hours Wednesday. The best work on the tab was turned in by the Marty Wolfson-trained Mocita, who went a half-mile in 49 seconds. Mocita is coming off a fourth-place finish behind her stablemate Prospective Saint in the Shocker T. Handicap on Oct. 15.

Of the nearly 20 other horses credited with four-furlong works on Wednesday, only Miss Aberdeen cracked 50 seconds.

* A field of seven 3-year-olds has been entered for Saturday's $40,000 Blazing Sword Stakes, an overnight event carded at 1 1/16 miles. A pair of invaders, Letterman's Humor and Kilates Kiss, may be among the favorites, along with the locally based pair of Talented Prince and Notgonagetemtoday.