02/10/2005 1:00AM

Garcia not missing a beat this winter


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Few jockeys on this circuit had more momentum entering the winter meet than Alan Garcia. He was riding for one of the top outfits on the grounds, bringing home longshot winner after longshot winner.

On Dec. 31, owner Ernie Paragallo - for whom Garcia had ridden 11 winners in five weeks - got disgusted with one of Garcia's rides and abruptly severed ties with him. When Garcia went winless the next two weeks, it looked like he would be in for a long, cold winter.

But when one door closed, several others opened. Now, Garcia is riding longshot winners for a bevy of trainers. Of the 18 winners he has ridden over the inner track, 13 have paid double-digit mutuels. That includes Scrappy T, the 3-year-old gelding Garcia guided to victory in last month's Count Fleet Stakes and whom Garcia will ride again in Saturday's $75,000 Whirlaway at Aqueduct.

Garcia, 19, is a native of Peru, where his father and grandfather both were jockeys. Fellow Peruvian Alfredo Clemente brought Garcia here in the summer of 2003, and Garcia, as an apprentice, finished second in the jockey standings at The Meadowlands that fall. Garcia was hoping to have a productive winter at Aqueduct, but last February he had to undergo an appendectomy.

After missing a couple of months, Garcia spent last spring and summer on the mid-Atlantic circuit, riding 28 winners at Monmouth Park. While doing double-duty in New York and New Jersey in the fall, Garcia rode 12 winners at Aqueduct, eight for Paragallo.

Just before getting sacked by Paragallo, Garcia began working with Scrappy T for trainer Robert Bailes. Garcia got on Scrappy T in the mornings leading up to the Count Fleet. Two days before the Count Fleet was originally scheduled to be run, Jan. 8, Scrappy T reared up on the training track, unseating Garcia. The horse was uninjured, the race was postponed one week because of bad weather, and Garcia rewarded Bailes with a front-running ride in the Count Fleet at 11-1.

"I never met Alan till I first came up here," said Bailes, who has put Garcia on three winners. "He seemed like he's a real hard worker, and he listens. He's got a good set of hands, and a very good clock in his head. I have no complaints with Alan. He gets along real well with the horse."

Garcia, who speaks little English, worked Scrappy T last weekend and believes the gelding is ready to run another big race.

"I think he's more ready for this race than he was the last one," Garcia said.

Doug Hatten, Garcia's agent, believes Garcia has a bright future as well.

"He's just 19 years old," Hatten said. "He's coming along so quickly. The potential is so great for him. To be this far along at his age - I can't wait till he's 22.''

Paragallo won't wait that long to use Garcia again. On Thursday, Paragallo said he plans to ride Garcia on Pavo in next Saturday's $75,000 Fred "Cappy" Capossela Stakes.

"I think he's a great rider," Paragallo said. "He just [ticked] me off. He's beaten me at least five times since I stopped using him."

Espinoza out until next week

Jockey Jose Espinoza was kept in Jamaica Hospital for a second night Thursday after complaining of pain in the back of his neck as a result of a spill in Wednesday's first race.

Espinoza did not suffer any fractures and did not have a concussion, according to his agent, Frank Sanabria. On Thursday, Espinoza did undergo another set of X-rays because he was complaining of neck pain. X-rays and a CAT scan taken Wednesday were negative.

"His helmet moved backwards when he hit the ground, and it hit him in the back of the neck," Sanabria said. "They took more X-rays to make sure everything is clear. He will probably get out [Friday]."

Espinoza took off his mounts on Thursday and Friday and was not named on one Saturday. He had been scheduled to ride longshot Lieutenant Danz in Saturday's Whirlaway. Sanabria said he hopes Espinoza could return to riding next Wednesday.

Trainer suspended for improper claim

Trainer Sandino Hernandez began serving a 30-day suspension last Sunday after an investigation revealed he made an improper claim here in December. The suspension was reduced from 60 days because Hernandez waived his right of appeal.

Officially, Hernandez claimed Stash the Boots for $14,000 for owner Pernel Bagwandeen out of the ninth race on Dec. 16. According to racing officials, however, Bagwandeen claimed the horse for Dennis Amaty, who was ineligible to claim horses at the time. Amaty was fined $1,000 in the matter.