09/10/2003 11:00PM

Dominguez on record pace

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There are still two months remaining in Delaware Park's season and 3 1/2 months until the end of 2003. In Ramon Dominguez's mind, that's far too early to start scoreboard-watching or begin a countdown.

To those who like paying attention to numbers, however, it's hard to overlook that Dominguez is within range of what would be a pair of notable achievements.

Coming into Saturday's program, Dominguez has ridden 177 winners at Delaware, moving rapidly toward the single season record of 218 set by Mike McCarthy in 1997.

With 42 days remaining until Delaware closes on Nov. 9, Dominguez needs 42 winners to surpass McCarthy's record total. Assuming he stays healthy, Dominguez projects to easily break McCarthy's mark. Dominguez has been averaging 1.77 wins daily.

Dominguez, 27, is also on a pace to finish as the nation's leading rider for the second time in his career. He leads Russell Baze, the longtime dominant rider in northern California, by eight wins, 312-304, through Wednesday.

In 2001, Dominguez won 431 races to lead the nation's jockeys and was a finalist for an Eclipse Award.

At this point, Dominguez prefers to take a low-key approach.

"I realize that I've been winning at a pretty good pace," said Dominguez, who has won five major stakes at Delaware this season, including the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup aboard Foufa's Warrior. "Quite honestly, when I get closer, that's when I'm going to get excited. It's still early. The main thing is for me to just keep doing what I'm doing."

The key to Dominguez's success has been spreading himself around to as many trainers as possible. Dominguez credits his agent, Steve Rushing, for keeping multiple clients content, even though he can't possibly accept every mount offered.

"My agent really does an outstanding job," Dominguez said. "He did the same thing for Edgar Prado before me. It really is pretty difficult to keep everybody happy, especially when things are going good and you're in demand. He gets me on the best horses and he manages to keep most everybody happy."

Despite his success, Dominguez has never finished as Delaware's leading rider. Last July he had a huge lead when he was badly injured in a fall. Although he missed the final 3 1/2 months of the season, Dominguez still finished fifth in the standings, matching his previous best at the track, in 2001, 1999, and 1998.

Two-year-olds in route feature

Eight 2-year-old colts and geldings, most of them untested beyond six furlongs, will get a chance to try two turns in Saturday's $55,000 Whirling Ash, an overnight stakes at one mile.

Among those who have already raced at a mile or longer are Paddington and Venizia.

Paddington, a son of Saint Ballado, comes from the same connections as the undefeated 3-year-old Soto - trainer Michael Dickinson and owners the Galopp LLC. In his second lifetime start and first route, Paddington drew off by two lengths in a one-mile maiden race, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 65. He is ideally drawn in post 2.

Venizia romped by 6 1/2 lengths when stretched out from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles at Laurel Park a month ago. A son of Old Trieste out of Future Bright, Venizia is a half-brother to Cosmic Fire, a seven-time winner in 23 starts whose career included seconds in a pair of Grade 2 stakes for 2-year-olds, the Bay Meadow Oaks at 1 1/16 miles and the Sorrento at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Pimlico: Foufa's Warrior imposing

Foufa's Warrior, who has been regularly competing in graded stakes since April, brings a distinct edge in class and proven ability into Saturday's $60,000 Humphrey S. Finney Stakes, a nine-furlong turf race for 3-year-olds at Pimlico.

Chronically plagued by poor starts in such dirt races as the Illinois Derby and the Preakness, Foufa's Warrior finally got a clean trip in the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware in mid-July, and he won that 1 1/8-mile turf stakes with a Beyer Speed Figure of 95. He was unable to duplicate that performance in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington, but he has since worked two bullets at Laurel Park.

None of the five opponents Foufa's Warrior will face in the Finney has anything more than a first-level allowance win on grass, and three are winless on the surface.