08/20/2004 12:00AM

Four apprentices make impact at Pimlico


It's easy to see why Maryland is considered the land of opportunity for novice riders. Nine of the last 30 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockeys began their careers at Pimlico and Laurel Park, including Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Kent Desormeaux.

While there aren't any Eclipse Award candidates at Pimlico this summer, four apprentice riders are making an impact.

Chip Van Hassel, 25, finished third at the recently completed Colonial Downs meet while riding first call for trainer Jonathan Sheppard and has continued his winning ways as live racing shifted back to Pimlico. Van Hassel rode two winners on last Sunday's card, and through Thursday's racing ranks second in the Pimlico jockey standings with a record of 10-9-6 from 57 mounts. Van Hassel's winners have paid an average of $17.20.

"I owe everything to Jonathan Sheppard," said Van Hassel, who will carry the weight allowance until next April. "He took care of me last summer at his training center, where I honed my skills, and put me on some quality horses at Colonial. Business really hasn't slowed down as much as I expected, but when you win races, there is a snowball effect. The most exciting part is that I am getting repeat business."

Eric Camacho, who grew up a few miles from Laurel Park, won his first career race on April 18 and continues to show improvement. Camacho, 20, has 41 victories and nine multiple-win days. He ranks sixth in the standings with a record of 7-8-9 from 52 mounts.

"Everything is going great," said Camacho. "I won my first career stakes race at Colonial and am riding with more confidence. It is more about polishing the techniques and doing what is supposed to be done. I'm being more patient and trying not to rush."

Carlos Torres and Christian Olmo, a pair of teenagers from Carolina, Puerto Rico, each have three wins during the meet while receiving mounts from top trainers Howard Wolfendale and Eddie Gaudet.