01/07/2010 1:00AM

Cohen's name getting noticed right at the top


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - After he dominated the jockey standings here the last two winters - and swept every meet on the New York Racing Association circuit in 2009 - it stood to reason that Ramon Dominguez would once again run away with the riding title at Aqueduct's inner-track meet. Somebody forgot to give David Cohen the memo.

Through the first 15 days of racing here this winter, Cohen had ridden 19 winners, two more than Dominguez. Considering for whom he is riding - and winning - Cohen could very well give Dominguez a stern challenge for top honors in his first meet riding in New York.

"Do I feel talented enough? Yes," Cohen said. "If owners and trainers support me and give me the opportunity, the sky's the limit,"

Cohen rode three winners on the Jan. 2 card at Aqueduct, including Laus Deo in the Count Fleet Stakes. That performance - his third three-win day of the winter - capped a 72-hour period in which he won six races, including two stakes. On New Year's Eve, Cohen won the Gallant Fox Handicap aboard Tiger's Rock, the longest shot of three horses trainer Todd Pletcher had in the race.

Cohen has been aboard for three of Pletcher's meet-leading 14 victories over the inner track. Over the last three years, Cohen has ridden 22 winners from 56 mounts for Pletcher, and they posted a 10-for-23 mark together at the 2009 Delaware meet. Cohen was the leading rider at Delaware in 2009 with 152 victories.

"I'm not surprised by his success in New York," Pletcher said by phone from Florida. "Anybody that wins as many races as he had in Delaware obviously has talent. We had some success with him several years ago at Philadelphia. He's a strong finisher, patient rider, has a pretty good sense of pace."

In addition to Pletcher, Cohen has won races at Aqueduct for Gary Contessa, Cody Autrey, Steve Klesaris, David Jacobson, and Tony Dutrow, all of whom are in the top six in the trainer standings.

"I felt that, if I was given a shot, that I was definitely confident in myself that I would be able to come through and be able to show myself," Cohen, 25, said. "I feel I'm definitely talented enough to be here on this circuit, and with the right horse you can be on top. It's just getting the opportunity, that's all. There are plenty of talented riders here in New York. If you switch the mounts around, I'm sure you'd have different jockey standings."

Cohen is a native of Southern California, where his father, Morry, was an owner and breeder. Growing up, Cohen was a Junior Olympics hockey player and speed skater. He thought if he was going to have a career in horse racing it would be as a trainer.

In an effort to become well-versed in racing, Cohen worked as a hotwalker, groom, veterinarian's assistant and a farrier's assistant. He learned how to ride horses by breaking young horses - teaching them how to become racehorses.

"Once I started breezing horses, coming out of the gate, and getting that adrenaline rush, I said let me put [training] on hold," Cohen said. "I couldn't live with myself for not trying to be a jockey."

At 135 pounds, and with only 5 percent body fat, Cohen needed to transform his body to be a jockey. He went to Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. for advice to help manage his weight.

"I didn't want to lose weight in two or three months, be weak, and not be able to ride a horse the way you should," Cohen said. "My body is at a level it was before, but just 20 pounds lighter."

Cohen had modest success as an apprentice but got his first big break when he became the regular rider of Proud Tower Too, on whom he won the Grade 1 Malibu in December 2005. Four months later, Cohen guided Proud Tower Too to victory in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen.

Cohen relocated to the East Coast in the winter of 2007, moving his tack to Philadelphia Park. He said he believed there were simply more opportunities on the East Coast. Cohen bounced from coast to coast in 2007 before coming back to Philadelphia Park in the winter of 2008. Things were going well until he suffered an ankle injury in a spill that sidelined him for two months. He returned in April at Delaware but rode the summer of 2008 at Monmouth Park, where he won 45 races.

At the end of the '08 Monmouth meet, Cohen hired Bill Castle as his agent, and Cohen had a breakout year in 2009, winning 288 races, fifth-best in the country.

Cohen has developed a reputation as an aggressive rider, a style that has served him well here this winter. In 16 of his 19 victories, Cohen's horses have been first or second at every call.

"He's a young, aggressive, talented rider," Jacobson said. "He's got the gift. Horses run for him."

Still, even Cohen's supporters say they believe he could become a better rider if he would learn to settle down. Tony Dutrow said Cohen should strive to be a little more like Dominguez and Mario Pino, of whom Dutrow said, "You never know they're around till the sixteenth pole."

Cohen, who says he has had long discussions with Dutrow, doesn't totally disagree.

"Everyone has their mind on what a good rider is - some are more aggressive, some are more graceful," Cohen said. "I feel like I would like to see myself [perform] both aspects. If a horse needs to be gotten into, believe me, I'm the man for he job. But also, I'm not going to overdo it for no reason."

How Cohen fares the rest of this meet could determine where he spends the remainder of the year.

"Is this the circuit we want to be on?" Cohen said. "Yes, or else we wouldn't be here."