08/19/2011 2:55PM

Del Mar: Friendly rivals Bejarano, Rosario expect down-to-the-wire finish

Benoit & Associates
Joel Rosario (above) is involved in a tight battle for leading jockey at Del Mar with Rafael Bejarano, Joe Talamo, and Garrett Gomez.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Judging from the nature of their conversation outside Barn E on the Del Mar backstretch on Friday morning, it would be hard to imagine that jockeys Rafael Bejarano and Joel Rosario are dead-locked at the top of the jockey standing with 24 wins each.

Laughing and carrying on in both English and Spanish, they swapped stories about events on and off the track after climbing off their final workouts of the morning – Rosario on a maiden for trainer Carla Gaines, Bejarano on Tres Borrachos, his hope for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 28.

“I work the maidens and he works the stakes horses,” Rosario joked.

Through Thursday, Bejarano, Rosario, and Joe Talamo each had 24 wins, with Garrett Gomez in fourth place with 22 wins. Both Bejarano and Rosario expect the competition to come down to the meeting’s final day, Sept. 7, regardless of who prevails.

Together, Bejarano, 29, and Rosario, 26, have combined to win every title at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita since Gomez, 39, won the title at the 2007 Hollywood Park fall meeting, a span of 17 race meetings. Talamo, 21, has never won a riding title in Southern California.

Last year at Del Mar, Rosario won the title with 57 wins, one more than Bejarano. Talamo was injured in early August last year, and did not ride the last five weeks of that meeting. Last summer, Gomez was based at Saratoga.

Thursday, Bejarano and Talamo each had one win. Rosario had two wins, but had a scare in the day’s fifth race when he was unseated from Ali’s Lake, when the 2-year-old filly broke down in the stretch of a one-mile race on turf.

Rosario took off his next mount while being examined in first aid, but returned to win the seventh race on Bailouttheminister. After workouts on Friday, he planned to rest before racing began late in the afternoon.

“I’m a little sore,” he said. “I’ll go back home and take a nap.”

Barn area conversations aside, the competition between the two riders, as well as Gomez and Talamo, is one left for the racetrack, Rosario said.

“In the race, it’s different,” he said of Bejarano. “It’s good for the careers. He tries to beat me and I try to beat him.”

Said Bejarano, “It’s good competition. It’s what everyone wants to see. Me and Rosario are close.”

Tres Borrachos sharpens for Pacific Classic

Neither Bejarano or Rosario has won the Pacific Classic in their careers, but have strong chances to do so next weekend.

Rosario will ride Twirling Candy, the five-time stakes winner who was third as the even-money favorite in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9. Bejarano rode Tres Borrachos to an 8-1 upset win in the San Diego Handicap on July 30, the 6-year-old gelding’s first stakes win since the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park in 2008.

Tres Borrachos worked seven furlongs in 1:26.40 on Friday, although trainer Marty Jones timed him in 1:27.80. Bejarano described the workout as “beautiful.”

Owned by George Hicker, Tres Borrachos worked alone. In the San Diego, Tres Borrachos closed from off the pace, a reversal of his style of racing earlier in his 31-race career when he frequently ran near the front. A closing trip is likely for the Pacific Classic, Jones said.

“We’ll let him run his race,” Jones said. “Hopefully, there is an honest pace and the track is fair.”

The Pacific Classic will have a large field. Aside from Tres Borrachos and Twirling Candy, the probable starters are Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude as well as Acclamation, Achak, Caracortado, Don Cavallo, Jeranimo, Setsuko, Stately Victor, and possibly Victory Pete.

Blind Luck, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2010, is nominated, but trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said on Friday that a decision on whether she will start in the Pacific Classic, the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga, or Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth Park on the same day has not been made.

Acclamation, the winner of three consecutive graded stakes on turf this year, could run in the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf the same day. Victory Pete could defect to the $200,000 Del Mar Mile on turf on Aug. 27, trainer Alexis Barba said earlier this week.

Courageous Cat, unraced since winning the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park last month, will be favored in the Del Mar Mile. Courageous Cat was given a break after the Shoemaker Mile before his training intensified earlier this month, trainer Bill Mott said.

“He seems like he’s starting to come around and do well,” Mott said by phone from New York. “Most importantly, above everything else, we’re looking to get to the Breeders’ Cup. We were a good second and we’d like to try it again.”

As a 3-year-old, Courageous Cat was second to Goldikova in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita. The race will be run at Churchill Downs in November.

The Del Mar Mile will also include Mr. Commons, the winner of the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on July 20, opening day of this meeting.