02/05/2003 12:00AM

Chavez up in battle of bugs


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It was John McKee who received all the hype before Aqueduct's inner track meet began. It has been Luis Chavez who has enjoyed the most success among the group of apprentice riders in New York.

As the second half of the inner track meet commenced Wednesday, Chavez had 29 winners from 240 mounts, including a victory aboard 52-1 shot A.P. Andie in last Saturday's Correction Handicap. Chavez recorded his 30th victory of the meet in Wednesday's eighth race aboard Boundanddetermined ($4.50). His win total is not only good enough for fourth-place in the overall standings, but Chavez also has four more wins than McKee, who also won a race on Wednesday.

"For having ridden only eight months, I feel everything is going very good," Chavez said Wednesday, through an interpreter.

Chavez, 18, began his career in his native Chile where he rode for two weeks before moving to Florida last March. He won his first race on April 10 at Gulfstream and then rode 74 winners at the Calder meet (April 24 through Oct. 25), to finish fourth in the standings.

Chavez's then-agent Jorge Velasquez targeted Aqueduct's winter meet for Chavez and brought him to New York in late October to get a head start. After going winless in four mounts at Belmont, Chavez racked up a respectable 15 wins - tied for seventh in the standings - from 118 mounts during Aqueduct's fall meet.

While Chavez was getting himself established in New York, McKee was all the rage in Kentucky, where he briefly challenged Pat Day for the riding title and set a Churchill Downs fall meet record for most wins by an apprentice rider with 24.

Though McKee won aboard his first mount in New York, Chavez won two races on the opening-day card. McKee overtook Chavez in the standings by the second week of the meet. Spurred by a recent 9-for-42 streak the last six racing days, Chavez moved past McKee.

Chavez, who in late December changed agents to Jose Rivera, said the attention paid to McKee was not motivation.

"My motivation stayed the same," said Chavez, whose brother and cousins were also jockeys.

Chavez has ridden winners for 17 trainers at the meet, including six for Greg Martin, the third-leading trainer at the meet.

"For a kid with not that much experience he seems to be a good judge of pace," Martin said. "For a bug boy, he doesn't get in much trouble; he seems to be in the right place at the right time. I like the way he finishes on a horse. When you get five pounds off with a kid like that, I think it's a big advantage."

While he picked up a stakes mount last week, Chavez lost one this week. He had ridden Mustang Jock to a second-place finish in the Count Fleet Stakes, but is to be replaced by leading rider Javier Castellano for Saturday's Whirlaway Stakes. Apprentices don't get the five-pound weight allowance in stakes.

"I understand that since I'm a bug boy the main attraction is the weight," Chavez said. "I'm happy I got a chance to ride the horse and the horse showed he could run. I understand they're going to go with the leading rider."

Chavez said he hopes to stay in New York even after his apprenticeship ends on May 6.

Minor's Gold seeks third straight

The fleet-footed Minor's Gold has found a home on the inner track, where she has posted gate-to-wire victories in each of her last two starts. She looms the one to catch again in Friday's featured second-level allowance race for fillies and mares going nine furlongs.

Minor's Gold, a 5-year-old daughter of Miner's Mark, won a nine-furlong entry-level allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths on Jan. 23. She paid a generous 8-1 then, and is not likely to be that price on Friday.

The only other speed in the race appears to be Green Jeans, who finished third at this level on Jan. 19.

The two best closers in the field are Ellie's Quest and Database. Ellie's Quest returned from a seven-week layoff to win an entry-level allowance for trainer Phil Johnson on Jan. 10. Database was beaten a neck at this level on Jan. 19 and should appreciate the added distance.

Leniently a Busher possibility

Leniently, an entry-level allowance winner here on Saturday, may make her next start in the $75,000 Busher Stakes on March 1, trainer Greg Martin said.

Leniently, a daughter of Langfuhr, was successful in her first start for Martin and owner Michael Iavarone, who purchased her privately late last year. Leniently had previously raced in California for trainer Ted West. While Martin said he will take a look at the Busher, he is also looking forward to running Leniently on the turf.

"She's a three-quarter sister to Easy Grades and he's shown some success on turf," Martin said. "Just her stride makes you believe she could be a nice filly on turf. She came out of the race very good and we'll take a look at the Busher, but I'm not looking to kill her this winter."

* Affirmed Success, prepping for the General George Handicap on Feb. 17, drilled five furlongs in 1:00.42 over Belmont's main track. It was the fastest of nine works at the distance.

* Tony Lip, who plays Carmine Lupertazzi in HBO's popular series "The Sopranos," was a visitor to Aqueduct Wednesday.