03/02/2007 1:00AM

Deep jockey colony stirs memories

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Northern California's jockey colony used to be characterized as Russell Baze and the Seven Dwarfs. But no longer.

Many believe the current Bay Meadows jockey colony is the strongest in 20 years, with a combination of competent journeymen and upcoming young riders.

Baze, who surpassed Laffit Pincay Jr.'s record for career wins last December, still is head and shoulders above his rivals statistically, and he is leading the standings for the current Bay Meadows meet. He is closing in on 9,600 victories and has mount earnings of more than $146omillion, not to mention 37 straight riding titles at Bay Meadows and 30 titles at Golden Gate Fields.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer acknowledged that Baze is still his No. 1 rider, but he isn't afraid to give mounts to other jockeys.

"I find I can go to other people like Chad Schvaneveldt, Jason Lumpkins, and Dennis Carr," he said. "This kid Joel Rosario is riding well."

Schvaneveldt, Lumpkins, and Carr are accomplished riders. Schvaneveldt and Carr have more than 2,000 victories, and Lumpkins, a former leading rider at Turfway Park, is approaching his 2,500th winner and has career earnings of more than $30 million. Schvaneveldt is the third-leading rider at the meet through Thursday.

Rosario, a 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, finished second to Baze at the last Golden Gate meeting and is second in the standings at this meet.

Trainer Jeff Bonde, who has been based in northern California for more than 30 years, said he thinks Rosario is "headed for the big time."

Other under-30 riders in the room include Francisco Duran, a former finalist in the Eclipse apprentice balloting; Juan Ochoa, fourth at last summer's Hollywood Park meeting; David Lopez, a former champion in his native Peru who is a top 10 rider at every northern California meet; and Kyle Kaenel.

Among the veterans are Roberto Gonzalez, who has more than 4,100 victories and should go past $59 million in career earnings this year; Kevin Radke, who captured the Emerald Downs title last summer and won the Golden Gate title over an injured Baze in 2003-04; Joe Castro, twice the leading stakes-winning rider at Turf Paradise and a winner of more than 2,000 races; and Frank Alvarado, who won the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic earlier this year aboard McCann's Mojave, and has more than 1,700 wins.

As good as this group is, however, it is doubtful the current riders can match the jockey colony here in the 1980's - at least at this point. Among the northern California riders back then were Tim Doocy and Ray Sibille, each of whom has won more than 4,000 races; Ron Warren, Joe Judice, and Ron Hansen, each a winner of more than 3,000; Tom Chapman, who won more than 2,500; and, of course, Baze.

Schvaneveldt and Gonzalez, who rode here in the 1980's, say the colony was better back then.

"Right now, you can look at guys and see good riders," Gonzalez said. "Some of these young kids have talent. I'm happy to see a new generation coming up. But then you had riders that had been champions other places, like Ray Sibille, Tim Doocy, Joe Judice."

"It's always tough here," said Schvaneveldt, "but the 80's were double tough. There's been a lot of guys, like Gary Stevens, who were great riders who couldn't get going here."

"It's hard to compare," said longtime agent Steve Steamer. "I don't think some of these guys would have been riding and getting mounts 20 years ago.

"We have some good young riders, but do they compare with Baze, Tom Chapman, Ron Warren, and Gonzo 20 years ago?"

Trainer Tony Diaz, who won more than 2,500 races and numerous northern California championships as a jockey, isn't ready to rank the current colony ahead of the riders of 20 years ago. But, he said, "We're getting some new kids who are good riders, riders who could make it anyplace."