07/29/2003 12:00AM

Ferrer back in top form after slump


OCEANPORT, N.J. - A healthy and motivated Jose Ferrer continues to enjoy a career revival at Monmouth Park.

Ferrer, 39, has seemingly turned back the clock almost a decade to when he perennially ranked among the Monmouth leaders.

His stock has dipped in recent seasons, but Ferrer has come roaring back.

Ferrer won four races Sunday to cement his standing as the No. 2 rider here behind Joe Bravo. He hasn't conceded the title, now that he rides first call for Michael Gill, the meet's leading owner, and Linda Rice, one of the top-percentage trainers.

"I'm going to give it a try," Ferrer said. "It's always been my dream to be leading rider at Monmouth Park."

Ferrer points the finger of blame squarely at himself for never seizing that prize.

"I blew the chances myself by not working and being lazy," Ferrer said. "I'm not getting any younger. You don't know what opportunities you'll get in the future. You've got to take it now."

Ferrer has ridden for Rice for almost 10 years, but Gill is a new client.

Gill started the meet using Jeremy Rose but settled on Ferrer after auditioning several other riders.

The relationship dates back to the winter in Florida, where Ferrer and wife, Rosemary Homeister Jr., both rode for Gill.

"We both met him in Florida," Ferrer said. "I told him to keep me in mind. I was lucky to fall right into that barn. It gives me a chance to show the talent I've still got."

Ferrer started the meet strongly, bagging winners from a limited number of mounts. Thanks to Gill, Ferrer has upped the quantity as well as the quality of his rides.

At the start of the meet, Ferrer said, "I wasn't getting too much business - maybe three or four horses a day."

That has changed. Ferrer was named to ride in five of the nine races on Thursday's card. He has two mounts for Gill and one for Rice.

Removal of a bone spur from the big toe on Ferrer's right foot in January also contributed to the comeback.

"The last couple of years, my foot was bothering me," he said. "We got that straightened out. Now I feel good."

In Thursday's second race, a $16,000 claimer, Ferrer rides the Gill horse Slew Gulch. Red Gem, Ferrer's other Gill mount, also runs for $16,000 in the seventh.

Ferrer rides Tamisa, a first-time starter, for Rice in the fifth race.