01/21/2003 1:00AM

Duran off to nice start as journeyman


ALBANY, Calif. - Francisco Duran made the most of his bug at Golden Gate Fields. In his final ride as an apprentice on Saturday, he rode Crafty M.D. to victory.

"I was trying to get the most I could out of my bug," Duran said. "I was fortunate to win my last race."

Duran then got his first two victories as a journeyman with back-to-back wins aboard Neon Queen and Hit the Press on Monday. Later on Monday, he missed by a head aboard 47-1 shot Let's Bail.

Duran, 25, won 215 races as an apprentice, including a pair of stakes - the Courtship Stakes aboard Tale of a Dream and the Albany Handicap aboard Halo Cat. He also finished third in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile aboard San Nicolas.

Duran was far from an overnight success, with his first victory coming in the 25th ride of his career aboard Nice Calves on Dec. 30, 2001.

His career began to take off last spring when he finished fourth in the Bay Meadows jockey standings. He was the leading rider on the northern California fair circuit and is currently second behind Russell Baze at Golden Gate Fields.

"I wouldn't know what to say if you told me last year I'd win this many races," Duran said. "I've got enough experience to get me through as a journeyman, I hope. But I still need a lot more. I have to keep working, learning, and improving."

Tom "Bomber" Doutrich, Duran's agent, says he knows business will slow down a little without the weight break apprentices receive, but expects it to pick up again.

"I think [trainers] will find out their horses don't run any better under someone else," Doutrich said.

Doutrich said that Duran must continue to polish his skills and improve his ability to study past performances before races so that he will have a better feel for what may happen in a race.

Leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will use Duran aboard Trickey Trevor in Thursday's Golden Gate Fields feature, a $50,000 optional claiming race at six furlongs.

Hollendorfer doesn't think the loss of the weight allowance will hurt Duran.

"He's ridden enough," Hollendorfer said. "It won't make a difference for him. He has plenty of experience and has won plenty of races.

"He's a hard worker, and that impresses everybody."

What may ease Duran's transition to the journeyman ranks is that he's always had to be competitive for mounts. He hasn't been the lone apprentice in the local jockey colony, automatically getting horses because of his status. He had to compete with apprentices Kevin Krigger, Omar Figueroa, and Jose Rivera Jr. during the year.

Duran is also likely to be helped by his work ethic.

"I get along with everybody," Duran said. "I try to help as much as I can because everybody helps you. They all help with little things."

Sunshine Millions presence

Three locally based horses are set to compete in Saturday's Sunshine Millions races and another, owner-trainer Dennis Ward's Surprise Halo, is on the also-eligible list for the $500,000 Turf at Santa Anita.

Ninebanks, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, drew post 6 in the 1 1/8-mile Turf. Ninebanks, with Martin Pedroza up, is 15-1 on the morning line.

Hollendorfer's Lost at Sea and Erica's Smile, trained by Jeff Bonde, are in the $750,000 Distaff at Santa Anita. Lost at Sea drew post 2 and is listed at 10-1 with David Flores riding. Erica's Smith, with Laffit Pincay Jr. up, is listed at 8-1 and will break from post 9 in the 1 1/16-mile race.

- Because of the Sunshine Millions and its television scheduling, Saturday's first live post is 12:10 p.m. First post on Sunday is 11:15 a.m.