01/28/2003 1:00AM

Fogelsonger joins Maryland's best


At least in the world of horse racing, Maryland is known for more than just crabcakes and the Orioles.

Yes, Maryland can boast of the Preakness, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, not to mention other prestigious events such as the Pimlico Special, the Maryland Million, the De Francis Dash, and the late Washington D.C. International.

But there is one other area in which Maryland racing is exceptional: apprentice riders. Since 1974, when Chris McCarron began his storybook career in Maryland, many of North America's top apprentices have started their careers there, including Eclipse Award winners Ron Franklin (1978), Alberto Delgado (1982), Allen Stacy (1986), Kent Desormeaux (1987), Mike Luzzi (1989), and Mark Johnston (1990).

Until last year, when Jeremy Rose spent much of the year riding at Pimlico and Laurel on his way to being voted an Eclipse winner, Maryland had hit something of a dry spell in the apprentice category. But when Ryan Fogelsonger was honored Monday night with the 2002 Eclipse Award for top apprentice, Maryland had produced yet another winner.

Fogelsonger, 21, is from the Maryland suburb of Silver Spring, located some 20 miles from Washington, D.C. He began his career in late March and did not win his first race until May 1, enduring a shaky start during which he admitted that he had a long way to go.

But in the ensuing months, he made tremendous progress, and by fall, he was dominating the Maryland circuit. He was the leading rider at three different meets, and finished the year with 267 victories and purse earnings of $4,489,311, easily best among all apprentices in North America. During the final five months of the year, he won 244 races, more than any other jockey, including journeymen. In voting for the Eclipse Award, Fogelsonger easily outdistanced John McKee, who also enjoyed a breakthrough riding in Ohio, Kentucky, and New York.

After McCarron introduced him and presented him with the Eclipse Award at ceremonies Monday night in Beverly Hills, Calif., Fogelsonger spoke briefly, thanking trainer Dale Capuano in particular. It was Capuano who gave him his start galloping horses.

Fogelsonger said that when he was younger he did not intend to get into horse racing, but his size lent itself to him becoming a jockey, "and I just kind of fell into this," he said. Now, he is focused on becoming a top journeyman after his apprenticeship expires this summer. Last week at Laurel, Fogelsonger posted his 300th career win.

Fogelsonger is represented by agent Kevin Witte, a former trainer.