07/17/2012 1:07PM

Del Mar: Bejarano riding high as meet begins

Shigeki Kikkawa
Rafael Bejarano is favored to win a second Del Mar riding title this summer.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano is bound for Del Mar this summer, secure in the role of the circuit’s leading rider. He will be in high demand throughout the season in all kinds of races.

Personally, he has other reasons to celebrate what should be a memorable season.

“My mom is here,” he said. “It will be more fun.”

His mother, Elva, has traveled from Peru, Bejarano’s home country, to spend three months in Southern California. This summer will be her first to attend the races at Del Mar, and the first time the two have been together since last fall, when Bejarano took a break to travel to South America.

“It’s been a while,” he said.

What mom will see is her 30-year-old son at the peak of his sport. Bejarano, who became an American citizen earlier this year, was the runaway winner of the riding title at the spring-summer meeting at Betfair Hollywood Park that ended Sunday. He won 74 races, 25 more than runner-up Joe Talamo. Of those 74 wins, 13 were in stakes.

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Barring injury, Bejarano is expected to win the riding title at Del Mar, which runs through Sept. 5. He was the leading rider at Del Mar in 2008, but lost the title to Joel Rosario from 2009-2011. Bejarano missed most of 2009 because of an injury suffered on the opening day, lost the title by one winner in 2010, and slipped to third behind Talamo in 2011.

Bejarano rebounded to win the title at the Santa Anita autumn meeting last year. The spring-summer meeting at Hollywood Park this year was his 16th career riding title and 11th in Southern California.

Talamo appears to be the biggest threat to Bejarano’s position at Del Mar. Rosario moved to New York last month and is not expected to ride at Del Mar. Bejarano and Rosario had a friendly rival, one that is expected to resume in the fall.

“I didn’t expect that Joel Rosario would leave,” he said. “I wish him the best at Saratoga. He’s a good jockey. The competition has spread to everybody. It will be a good meeting.”

Still, Bejarano knows what he can accomplish. Asked if he expects to win the Del Mar title, he said, “Probably. It will be tough.”

Through Tuesday, Bejarano ranked third in the nation in earnings this year with $8,313,040, trailing Javier Castellano ($11.5 million) and Ramon Dominguez ($10.8 million). Bejarano will need an incredible meeting at Del Mar to catch those riders, who are based this summer at Saratoga where purses are higher.

Still, Bejarano will benefit from his close alliance with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Of Bejarano’s 13 stakes wins at Hollywood Park, five were for Baffert. The group included Richard’s Kid, who won the Prove It Stakes and was second in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Richard’s Kid is a top candidate for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 26.

Bejarano is the regular rider of the Baffert-trained Executiveprivilege, the unbeaten 2-year-old filly who won the Landaluce Stakes last Saturday.

“I have a lot of good horses for Del Mar,” Bejarano said. “Mr. Baffert has a lot of good horses that are getting ready.”

Frequently, Bejarano rides for Baffert during morning workouts, even on hosrses that are not his mounts. The most notable example is Game On Dude, the Hollywood Gold Cup winner. Bejarano rides Game On Dude in the mornings, but Chantal Sutherland is the gelding’s regular rider.

From Baffert’s perspective, Bejarano is a cool, prepared rider, and one helped greatly by the organizational skills of his agent, Joe Ferrer.

“He studies a race pretty well and does his homework,” Baffert said of Bejarano. “Horses run for him.

“He’s not intimidated by a big race. When you ride 1-5 shots, there is added pressure and it doesn’t seem to bother him.”

All of that will be put to work at Del Mar, the most anticipated racing season of the year in Southern California.

“I study all my horses for all my races,” Bejarano said. “I’ve got a plan for every race.”

The plan for Del Mar is to win the title, showing mom what he can do.