11/27/2006 12:00AM

Closing the generation gap

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Fernando Jara, 18, and a winner of only 10 percent of his races, nevertheless made his transition from apprentice to the big stage with his perfect handling of Jazil and Invasor in victories in the Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic, respectively. As others have observed, very few young riders have handled such pressure in big races with as much cool professionalism.

A noteworthy exception is Julien Leparoux, 23, a cool customer on horseback. Leparoux was no ordinary apprentice. Working under fellow French-born trainer Patrick Biancone's guidance, Leparoux led the jockey standings at several meets and was extremely effective riding grass horses, including the multiple graded stakes winner Gorella. Leparoux also outperformed many journeymen jockeys at the exceedingly tough Saratoga meet. Leparoux even battled the young, rising star Rafael Bejarano, 24, to a standstill at the Kentucky meets that Bejarano had dominated after Pat Day retired in 2005.

All three jockeys - Jara, Leparoux, and Bejarano - have, in fact, moved swiftly up the ladder to rank among the most reliable in the game. Leparoux ranked first in the nation in numbers of wins with 391 through Nov. 25; Bejarano was 12th with 248.

There is also at least one relatively new apprentice jockey on the scene, Martin Garcia, 22, who could join these three on the upward climb towards national success.

Garcia, with 251 wins this year has been very impressive riding for many of the best trainers in Southern California. Among other things, he has shown great skill with stretch-running types and has adapted like an experienced pro to the switch in circuits from Del Mar to Santa Anita to the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. While he began to make an impression in northern California earlier this year and has not yet landed many quality stakes mounts, astute trainers and horseplayers are beginning to trust his abilities beyond his limited experience. In my judgment, this is a jockey who needs only to keep a positive work ethic to be among the meet leaders in 2007 and beyond.

In addition to Garcia, a few other young riders are turning some heads, including apprentices Michael Baze, Almado Bocachica, Joseph Talamo, Cody Meche, and the young journeymen Juan Ochoa and David Cohen. Emma-Jayne Wilson, last year's Canadian-based Sovereign Award- and Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey, is another who is making forward strides.

Cohen and Ochoa each has won more than 100 races this year in California. Ochoa spent a few good months in Southern California this summer before moving north to race on near-equal terms with Russell Baze, the dominant force in northern California for nearly three decades who seems sure to win more than 10,000 races before he retires.

Cohen, riding almost exclusively in SoCal, has gotten live mounts from several highly ranked trainers, including Doug O'Neil, Vladimir Cerin, and Bob Baffert.

Wilson, highly ranked in Canada and a winner of 136 races through Nov. 25, is expected to join the promising apprentices Talamo and Meche at Fair Grounds as soon as Woodbine completes its 2006 race meet on Dec. 3.

Baze, a winner of 75 races in his first full season - mostly with off-the-pace types in Southern California -rates slightly behind Garcia among the most promising apprentices in the country. Meanwhile, the unheralded Bocachica is learning the game well at Charles Town in West Virginia, riding against several former Maryland-based riding stars. Bocachica ranks among the Charles Town meet leaders.

As for up and coming trainers, special notice must be given to Southern Cal-based Brian J. Koriner, who has quietly won nearly 80 races this year, for a win percentage in excess of 27. Beyond Koriner, three other high-percentage trainers appear worth following in 2007 as they attempt to follow in the footsteps of successful training fathers in Florida, Kentucky, and California.

Through Nov. 25, Kirk Ziadie, had won 85 races from 297 starters for a 29 percent win rate. Kirk Ziadie is the son of Florida-based trainer Ralph Ziadie.

Steve Flint, son of Kentucky-based Bernie Flint, is another success story. Through the same date, Steve Flint had won 40 races from 165 starters, for a 26 percent strike rate.

Craig Dollase, son of former California-based Wally Dollase (now based in Kentucky), had 31 victories from 156 starters for a 20 percent winning clip through Nov. 25.

Among their specialties, Flint is an ace with layoff types and dirt performers. Ziadie is equally strong with recent winners seeking to repeat and 2-year-olds, especially sprinters on the dirt. Dollase, who trained 1998 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Reraise, is excellent at stretching horses out in distance, while Koriner - solid with various types this year - appears most dangerous with horses changing distances, especially when shortening from routes to sprints.

Among all of the promising jockeys and trainers named above, I expect jockeys Garcia and Wilson and trainer Craig Dollase to have the most noticeable impact in 2007.

Wilson, the 33rd-ranked North American jockey in purses won through Nov. 25, has smoothly handled the loss of her apprentice allowance and should benefit from the added exposure she will get at Fair Grounds this winter. Likewise, Garcia and Dollase already have experienced success with several stakes horses on the Southern California circuit, with more to come. Garcia, with $5 million in purses won, ranks 35th on the list of jockeys in money won. Dollase, with $2.3 million in purses won by his modest-sized stable, ranks 57th on the trainers' list. But to put that in perspective, all but four of the top 100 money-winning trainers who rank below Dollase started considerably more horses in 2006.