01/09/2008 12:00AM

Cedeno finding success in N.Y.

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Her wide, bright smile and shy personality belie that of a fiercely competitive athlete. But make no mistake, in a set of silks and on the back of a horse, apprentice Carol Cedeno is more than holding her own in one of the toughest jockey colonies in North America.

With 9 wins from 72 mounts through Wednesday, Cedeno has cracked the top 10 in the standings of Aqueduct's deep winter colony, one that has not been as much a haven for apprentice riders as in years past.

Cedeno, a 19-year-old native of Puerto Rico, is the second-leading apprentice behind the more experienced Jermaine Bridgmohan, who loses his apprentice status and officially becomes a journeyman on Friday. Cedeno, the only female riding regularly on this circuit, has succeeded aboard a bevy of longshots. Her average win payout is $30.20.

This is the kind of success agent Jose Morales thought Cedeno capable of when he finally convinced her to come to New York for the winter from Philadelphia Park.

"I've been begging her to come to New York since Saratoga, that much confidence I had in her," said Morales, who was the agent for Pablo Fragoso when he was New York's leading apprentice in 2003-04. "She rode a horse for Allen Jerkens [Motor West] and finished second, then she won a race for Enrique Arroyo at Belmont. When the trainers saw that, they were already talking high about her, so I was pushing her since that time. She didn't want to do it."

Cedeno, who speaks little English, said it's not that she was intimidated by New York. Instead, Morales said, "She was doing so well in Philly, she didn't want her business to drop."

Naturally, when an unknown apprentice comes to New York during the Belmont meet, that rider will struggle initially. Cedeno went 1 for 15 at Belmont and 3 for 20 during Aqueduct's main-track meet. Meanwhile, Cedeno rode at the Meadowlands, where she racked up 14 wins, and continued her engagements at Philadelphia Park, where she won 78 races in 2007.

Cedeno lives with a friend near Philadelphia Park and wakes up at 3:30 a.m. each day to commute to New York along with Morales. On Aqueduct's dark days, Monday and Tuesday, Cedeno rides at Philly Park.

Cedeno, who has her apprentice status until Feb. 28, did not come from a racing family. Her mother is a nurse in Puerto Rico and her father is a businessman and racing fan. Cedeno, who dropped out of school after the 11th grade, attended the Puerto Rico Jockey School for two years, where she rode in 20 exhibition races at the end of 2006. She began riding in parimutuel races in January 2007 at Hipodromo Camarero (formerly El Comandante) before coming to America in April.

Ramon Morales, Jose's brother, is a trainer in Puerto Rico and sent Jose a DVD of all the races Cedeno won in Puerto Rico.

"I called her and I had to really get some words out of her because she didn't talk much, but she sounded interested in coming," Jose Morales said.

Cedeno went to Philly because Morales was based there with another rider and because she knew jockey Angel Rodriguez, who was a year ahead of Cedeno in the Puerto Rico Jockey School.

While many apprentice riders tend to do better on horses who possess speed, Cedeno has distinguished herself as a rider who can really finish on a horse. On Aqueduct's notoriously speed-favoring inner track, Cedeno has brought the majority of her winners home from well off the pace.

"She's a pretty strong rider for a bug," said trainer Scott Schwartz, who has put her on one winner. "Girl has nothing to do with it; she can bring one home, she's a strong finisher."

Trainer John Hertler said: "I know Jose Morales very well and he told me in August that he had a girl that looked and acted like Julie Krone. I watched her ride and I took to her right away. She's a good finisher."

"If I got the horse, I think I can do the job," Cedeno said through an interpreter. "Some trainers give those instructions to relax. I feel much better on a come-from-behind horse."

Though Cedeno figures to benefit from Bridgmohan becoming a journeyman, she knows that she only has seven weeks left on her apprenticeship. The transition from apprentice to journeyman is often tough. But Cedeno says she looks forward to the challenge of trying to make it in New York.

"I think she's got the talent to stay here," Morales said.