11/15/2002 1:00AM

Forty-year-old Ho rides winner No. 2


ALBANY, Calif. - Sunny Ho's dream came true Thursday at Golden Gate Fields when the 40-year-old jockey from Hong Kong won the fifth race with $121.20 upsetter Peters Punkin.

Ho had won only one other race in his career - in 1983 in Hong Kong, where he had only

13 mounts as a jockey.

"I had to have a chance to come to America before I could become a jockey," he said after his victory. "In Hong Kong, if you haven't won

10 races by the time you're 23, you can't be a jockey."

For the past 19 years Ho served as an exercise rider in Hong Kong. He arrived in the United States early this year, began galloping horses in April, and rode his first mount at Pleasanton on June 27.

By all rights, Ho should be an apprentice, but because of a language barrier there was a misunderstanding when he applied for his rider's license.

"He told us he'd been a licensed jockey in Hong Kong and didn't apply for an apprentice license at the time," steward John Herbuveaux said. "You are not allowed an apprentice license if you are licensed as a [journeyman] jockey."

Trainer James Li, who saddled Peters Punkin, has helped Ho since the rider's arrival in America.

Ho got Li's phone number from a mutual friend. Although Li does not have as many horses as he once had, he told Ho that he would help him.

When Ho was given his gallop license, Li introduced him to Lloyd Mason. Ho worked horses for both Mason and Li and attended school to learn English.

He had 33 mounts before scoring his first win.

Ho's brother, Sung Kit Ho, claimed Peters Punkin, a 3-year-old filly, for $8,000 in her previous start.

"We were looking for a horse with speed," Li said.

Peters Punkin took the lead at the half-mile pole of Thursday's $12,500 claiming race at one mile. She was challenged by Twelveyearslater, with Russell Baze aboard, at the top of the stretch but prevailed by a neck under a vigorous hand ride from Ho, who said he didn't want to go to the whip because the filly was giving her best.

"I was thinking, 'Push, push, push, push.' I hoped I'd win," Ho said. "This is a dream come true with my first win coming for my brother."

Good thing jury was out

Trainer Sergio Ledezma was nervous Thursday morning. He had changed a few things in the training of his 2-year-old filly Day Willy and wanted to see how she would adjust in a race later that day. But he also had jury duty, and thought he might have to ask another trainer to saddle Day Willy.

When Ledezma called the court at 11:30, he was relieved to find out that he wouldn't have to serve.

In the afternoon, he saddled Day Willy for a $77.40 upset in the second race.

"I knew it was a tough race, but I liked her," he said. "I had worked her long, trying to get her to relax so she'd finish. Everything worked out."