07/11/2006 12:00AM

Distinct edge to Leparoux on turf

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Throughout the meet, jockeys Julien Leparoux and Rafael Bejarano have been nearly inseparable atop the Churchill Downs rider standings. Through last Sunday, with one week of racing remaining, Leparoux held an 80-78 lead in victories.

Break down their numbers riding on turf and dirt, and their statistics differ noticeably. Leparoux has been the most successful turf rider this meet, winning 26 races, compared with 13 for Bejarano. Bejarano holds a 65-54 edge on the main track.

So it should come as little surprise that the horse to beat in Thursday's featured seventh race at Churchill Downs, a $58,000 second-level allowance at a mile on turf, is a horse ridden by Leparoux - the former British-based Crested.

A 3-year-old gelded son of Fantastic Light, has already teamed up successfully with Leparoux. Making his first start in the United States on June 14 in a first-level allowance at Churchill, he closed from seventh to win by a half-length despite lugging in through the stretch. Beyond his failure to maintain a straight course, Crested did everything right.

Owned by Jim Ford, Crested is trained by Wally Dollase, who developed former Europeans such as Meteor Storm and Stupendous Miss into graded winners in America.

In all likelihood Crested will never match those accomplishments. Few horses develop into graded stakes runners. But he is a contender at this level on Thursday.

Crested also benefits from the services of Leparoux, who is 26 for 73 in turf races at Churchill this meet - nearly 36 percent winners. A $2 bet on all 73 runners would have yielded an average return of $3.59.

What Crested lacks is a lofty Beyer Speed Figure. He earned only an 81 Beyer for his recent victory - below the top figures of Charlevoix and Neuf de Carreau. Neuf de Carreau has consistently run in the mid to upper 80's. Charlevoix posted Beyers in the 90's in Florida last winter.

also enter Thursday's race in good form. Charlevoix comes off a runner-up finish vs. similar June 7, and Neuf de Carreau was a close third in a $40,000 claiming race at Churchill on June 18.

They have struggled to clear their second allowance condition, however. Both horses have gone 0 for 8 in past attempts at this level - and Neuf de Carreau has never run better than third against similar company.

Whole Nine Yards, coming off a sixth-place finish as the favorite June 25, also looms a threat.