05/14/2003 11:00PM

Fogelsonger on first Preakness mount

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BALTIMORE - Ryan Fogelsonger, the 21-year-old riding sensation and 2002 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey, has a mount in nearly every race on every live racing day on the Maryland circuit. So why should the Preakness Stakes, Maryland's most famous race, be any different?

This year it won't be.

Fogelsonger, who turns 22 on May 26, will ride Cherokee's Boy - a Maryland-based, Maryland-bred, Maryland-owned horse - in the Preakness on Saturday, his first mount in the Triple Crown race. Considering Fogelsonger has been riding for only a little more than a year, the wait hasn't been so bad.

"It's pretty unbelievable," said Fogelsonger between races on Wednesday.

"A lot of us jocks don't get to ever ride a good 3-year-old, and I just got lucky to get on him when this horse was just 2. And since we get along pretty good, I'm still on him."

Fogelsonger has ridden Cherokee's Boy in 10 of the horse's 12 lifetime races, and has won with him six times, including in the $150,000 Federico Tesio Stakes on April 19 at Pimlico. Seven of the horse's 12 races have been at Maryland tracks.

Fogelsonger, who still receives a five-pound allowance in non-stakes races but none is stakes like the Preakness, said the Preakness will be, by far, the most important race he has ridden in.

"When I won the Tesio on him a couple of weeks ago, I was speechless," he said. "But this is the Preakness. I guess I can't believe this is all happening. Hopefully, when I get out on the track I just forget about all that."

Gary Capuano, the trainer of Cherokee's Boy, said he had "no hesitation at all" about choosing Fogelsonger when considering riders.

"He rides well, he gets a lot out of a horse, and he's a heady rider," Capuano said. "I'm just going to let him do his job. I figure the less I say to him the better off he will be."

Fogelsonger's early success has drawn comparisons to other jockeys who excelled on the Maryland circuit early in their careers: Chris McCarron, Kent Desormeaux, and Edgar Prado.

Fogelsonger said that his familiarity with Pimlico should work to his advantage on Saturday, and he pointed to Cherokee's Boy's 3-for-3 record at Pimlico. But he also said he was trying to convince himself that the Preakness is just another race.

"The only thing I want to try to do is, when I get him to the post, I want to stay calm," Fogelsonger said.

And what happens if he wins?

"Wouldn't that be something?" he said.