04/04/2003 1:00AM

Castro realistic on local hierarchy


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Jockey Joey Castro opened the Bay Meadows meeting with three wins and a second in four mounts on Wednesday's opening-day card.

On Thursday, he had no mounts. Such is life for a journeyman rider.

"I'm going into my 20th year as a rider. You learn to adapt to situations," he said, shrugging.

A perennial top 10 rider in northern California, Castro will have four mounts Sunday, but his time atop the jockey standings was fleeting. After missing opening day because of a suspension, leading rider Russell Baze picked up two wins Thursday and another in his first mount Friday. Ron Warren got his fourth win early Friday.

Castro, who turns 40 in November, was northern California's leading apprentice in 1984. He moved to Turf Paradise in 1986, finally returning to northern California in 1998.

Castro never led the standings at Turf Paradise but was second on several occasions and was the meeting's leading stakes winner in 1995 and 1996. In 1996 he rode G. Malleah to a world record of 1:06.60 for six furlongs and to victory in the Phoenix Gold Cup, Turf Paradise's lone graded race.

"I decided I needed more of a challenge and wanted to get better horses," Castro said of moving back to northern California.

Castro knows he will never be the leading rider in northern California, but he makes a good living and is satisfied.

"You hear guys come and say they want to be leading rider, but you have to be realistic," he said. "This is Baze country. But you can win 100 races a year and make a good living, and it's fun to get on one or two good head every year."

Castro doesn't have a mount in Sunday's feature, a $100,000 optional claimer at one mile on grass.

Komistar, who has won two straight, and Bit of Luck, who won his U.S. debut at Santa Anita last month, head the field of eight older runners. Also entered is stakes winner Epic Honor, who makes his second turf start.

California Derby attracts 19

Nineteen 3-year-olds were nominated to Saturday's California Derby. The $100,000 race is run at 1 1/8 miles.

Winning Stripes, second to Ministers Wild Cat in the Golden State Mile and third behind Ocean Terrace and Ministers Wild Cat in the El Camino Real Derby, is among the nominees, but his trainer, Bill Morey Jr., said he may pass the race to run in the Snow Chief on California Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park April 26.