02/04/2010 12:00AM

Chavez says there's more left in the tank

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A decade removed from his decade of dominance on the New York Racing Association circuit, Jorge Chavez dreams of a return to the glory days.

Chavez has constructed a career most riders would sign up for even before setting foot into the stirrups. It includes 4,445 career victories, 196 graded stakes victories - highlighted by a Kentucky Derby win and two Breeders' Cups - and an Eclipse Award as North America's top jockey.

However, Chavez wants more. He would love to reach 5,000 career victories, a mark he hopes would punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. He would love to get back to the big races, especially the Kentucky Derby.

Now 48, and following a seven-year period in which he suffered multiple injuries in a pair of nasty spills, Chavez says he feels like he's 18 again. He says he just needs the opportunity.

"I feel 100 percent," Chavez said. "Now what I need is an opportunity, and we'll see what happens. Maybe I'm wrong, but you see when I have a horse, I make it count. When I have no horse there's nothing I can do. I cannot put them on my back, but I still try hard."

Perhaps Eightyfiveinafifty can put Chavez back on the fast track to prominence. A 3-year-old son of Forest Camp, Eightyfiveinafifty gained national attention when, with Chavez in the irons, he won a six-furlong maiden race by 17 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct on Jan. 9. He received a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest assigned to any 3-year-old this year.

Of course, that was at six furlongs. If Eightyfiveinafifty is to remain in the public conscience, he's going to have to prove himself at a distance of ground. He'll get that chance in Saturday's $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. Chavez, as much as anybody else, said he is eager to find out.

"My opinion - I think he can go long if I can control the speed," he said. "I never rode a horse like this. The stride he has is so smooth, you don't think you're going so fast, and you look at the numbers and he's going fast."

Chavez has ridden a number of fast horses in his career. In 1999, he won the Breeders' Cup Sprint aboard Artax and the Breeders' Cup Distaff aboard Beautiful Pleasure. Like Eightyfiveinafifty, Beautiful Pleasure had speed and could carry it.

"She was fast, but because she was big, her stride was long," Chavez said. "This one is regular size, but whatever he does is so easy, but it's smooth. With the filly, you could feel the stride, but with this one you don't feel the stride; it's like going in the air."

Chavez said he hopes a horse like Eightyfiveinafifty can help his career take flight again. Chavez dominated the New York Racing Association circuit for most of the 1990s. He was the leading rider from 1994 to 1999 and won 12 riding titles. In 1999, he scored on the national stage, winning two Breeders' Cup races as part of a 319-win year. His horses earned $17 million in purse earnings, and he beat out Pat Day and Jerry Bailey for the Eclipse Award.

Two years later, Chavez won the Kentucky Derby aboard Monarchos.

In the 2003 Florida Derby, everything changed. Chavez was aboard Midway Cat, who broke down during the running of the race, hurling Chavez hard to the ground. He suffered three fractured vertebrae and was out two months.

"Break your back, that's the worst thing that can happen to any person," Chavez said. "It takes a long time to get back. Mentally, you can say I'm going to beat this, I'm trying to forget all this, trying to block out everything, but when you get that pain every time something happens, you think about it again."

As 2006 began, Chavez appeared on his way back to regaining lost business. But in the last race on the last day of the Calder meet, Chavez broke his collarbone. A victory in that race would have tied him for leading jockey heading into the Gulfstream Park meet. Instead, he missed four months, including the Gulfstream meet.

In an effort to resuscitate his career, Chavez went to New Jersey, then to California. But his family - his wife, Margarita, and five children - missed him. They tried California but didn't like it.

When Chavez returned to New York in 2007, he had no business. Now competing against jockeys much younger than him, Chavez has found it hard to get back on good horses.

"I feel like I'm starting all over again, like I was at the beginning, so that's what I'm trying to do," said Chavez, who last Saturday won the aboard Hold That Prospect. "A lot of people, they think I don't have the same strength anymore, but I have it. I just need the opportunity."

For his part, Gary Contessa has provided it. Contessa and Chavez have a relationship that goes back 23 years, when the two were plying their trade in Jersey. While Rajiv Maragh rode Eightyfiveinafifty in his debut at Saratoga, Maragh was unavailable to ride him last month.

Contessa, who is also part-owner of Eightyfiveinafifty, decided to give Chavez a chance in part because he is hoping Chavez is strong enough to be able to ration the horse's speed over a distance of ground.

"I think he's a very strong rider," Contessa said. "He thinks he can surely rate him. He tells me, 'Don't worry, I'll be able to rate him.' That's great by me. I hope so. The key to this race is rating this horse, taking a horse that's got unbelievable blazing speed when you don't even ask him for it and getting him to rate."

It's the opportunity Chavez has been seeking. Now it's up to him to make the most of it.