05/20/2005 12:00AM

Changes can't keep Jacinto from top spot


BOSSIER CITY, La. - At first glance, it should come as no surprise to see John Jacinto atop the rider standings during the first three weeks of the young meeting. After all, he is the logical heir apparent to the crown after finishing second to last year's champion, Lonnie Meche, who is serving a six-month suspension.

What makes Jacinto's success this season so special is that he is no longer riding first call for perennial training champ Cole Norman. Of Norman's 111 victories here a year ago, Jacinto won 28. That is an extremely large void to fill against a competitive riding colony.

That job falls to agent Jerry Reites, who has done a superb job getting Jacinto on one live mount after another for outfits other than Norman's. What makes the situation even more remarkable is that Reites also handles Guy Smith's book. Smith just happens to be Norman's go-to jockey to begin the season and is having a terrific year himself, including winning the riding title at the Delta Downs meeting, which concluded late in March. Smith is third in the standings behind Jacinto and Louis Quinonez.

Bridesmaids try to break through

Punchin' Gal and Cedar Summer, each coming off a runner-up performance in her last start, should vie for the role of favorite in Sunday's allowance headliner. They will have six rivals in the six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares who have not won three times.

Punchin' Gal, a 5-year-old mare trained by Steve Asmussen, was last seen at Lone Star Park finishing second in a similar spot at 4-5. She chased the winner in vain that day after a ground-saving trip, indicating the lack of a burning desire to win that has haunted her throughout her career - she has finished second 5 times and third 3 times.

Carlos Gonzalez will be on board for first time Sunday.

Cedar's Summer's second-place performance on the grass here two weeks ago was her third just-miss since she returned to action at Fair Grounds on March 14. She was claimed out of that race for $30,000 by her current trainer, Andrew Ney. Gerard Melancon will handle the riding chores Sunday.