02/20/2006 1:00AM

Esprit du Roi gives Parisi his greatest win

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Horacio Parisi worked for years as a horse trainer in his native Chile before coming to the United States about 20 years ago. Parisi, 63, said he won "lots of races" back home, but until Esprit du Roi stunned Turfway Park horseplayers on Saturday by winning the Dust Commander Stakes at 21-1, Parisi had labored in obscurity in this country.

"The racetrack is my life," said Parisi, who speaks limited English.

Parisi worked as a stablehand while living in and around Lexington, Ky., including a lengthy stint at Gainesway Farm, before taking out a trainer's license in 2003. He won two races that year but has mostly struggled, and when the Chilean-bred Esprit du Roi won Saturday by 3 1/2 lengths, it was only Parisi's fourth - and by far the biggest - victory as a trainer in the U.S.

Parisi's son, Marcelo, trains in Chile, and last summer Marcelo arranged for his father to purchase Esprit du Roi, a 7-year-old gelding who already had raced 52 times. Although Esprit du Roi was the champion sprinter in Chile in the South American racing season that ended in June 2005, his North American form was not very inspiring. Before the Dust Commander, the gelding had won once in eight starts, with the victory coming two starts back in a $40,000 claiming sprint at Turfway at 33-1.

"He win too easy Saturday," said Parisi.

Besides Esprit du Roi, Parisi has only one other active racehorse at the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington, proving that a big win can still come from a small stable.

Castanon heading back to Kentucky

Jesus Castanon will be back in Kentucky for good on March 4. Castanon, who enjoyed a breakthrough year when emerging as one of the circuit's top jockeys in 2005, has been riding mostly at Tampa Bay Downs for the last two months.

Castanon was the leading rider at Tampa the last two years but missed the first few weeks of the current meet when opting to stay at Turfway for the holiday meet that ran through Dec. 31. He has returned to Turfway for stakes engagements several times since then, but he dislikes cold weather and wanted to escape the northern Kentucky chill, at least for a while.

Castanon will ride Go Bucky Go in the March 4 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway in Florence, Ky. The Turfway meet runs through April 5, after which Keeneland starts a 15-day meet.

Slippery roads result in scratches

Normally, when a racing program is decimated by scratches, it's either because weather forces races off the turf or some trainers think the main track is too wet.

But the Polytrack surface installed last year at Turfway is supposed to render those problems obsolete. So a red flag went up when an eye-popping 27 horses were scratched Saturday from a 12-race program, leaving only 72 to race.

No worries. The culprit for the inordinately large number of scratches was not the track, but icy road conditions. An overnight snow made driving conditions hazardous from Louisville and Lexington, and many trainers chose not to risk putting their horses on a van.

"When it was time to leave, the road was all ice," said Louisville-based trainer Steve Flint, who scratched both halves of his entry,

G P Fleet and Barnard Man, from the Dust Commander. "I'm not putting mine on a road like that."

With road conditions much improved the following day, 10 horses scratched from the nine-race Sunday card.

Leparoux opens huge lead

Julien Leparoux continues to win races in bunches. Through Sunday, Leparoux, a 22-year-old apprentice from Chantilly, France, led all North American riders with 94 wins.

All of Leparoux's wins have come at Turfway, where his win total is more than three times greater than his closest pursuer (Willie Martinez, 26 wins) atop the local standings.

Butler nears 1,000-win mark

Veteran jockey Dean Butler is just one win away from the 1,000-win milestone after capturing the first race Sunday at Turfway aboard heavily favored Step to the Music. He is named on three mounts Wednesday and two Thursday.

Butler, a native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., had his first mount in 1992.

* Nominations for Turfway's marquee race, the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, close Wednesday. Racing secretary Rick Leigh and stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman traveled to South Florida and Oaklawn Park, respectively, last week, "and they both said the response they've gotten from horsemen was very encouraging," Turfway president Bob Elliston said.

The Lane's End is on March 25.