10/30/2007 11:00PM

Garcia stays put to keep grounded

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Alan Garcia celebrates his victory on Lahudood in the BC Filly and Mare Turf.
OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A year ago, a young jockey riding on the New York Racing Association circuit capped off a stellar season by winning the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Instead of having that be a springboard to a fabulous 2007 season, 19-year-old jockey Fernando Jara has struggled mightily, even having to move his tack cross-country to try and jump-start his once-promising career.

This year, a young jockey riding on the NYRA circuit capped off a memorable season by winning the $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. But 22-year-old Alan Garcia isn't planning on going anywhere except back to work.

"I want to keep working," Garcia said in a recent interview. "It was only one race. I have to keep being Alan Garcia - working, happy, nice - and ride every horse hard. Claiming, allowance, stakes - ride them the same way."

Garcia, whose father and grandfather were riders in his native Peru, began riding in the United States in 2003 and has improved his statistics each year. In 2007, Garcia has won 190 races from 1,204 mounts and he ranks 13th nationally in purse money won with $9,862,627.

In New York, Garcia ranks second in wins this year with 171, trailing only Eibar Coa (230).

Garcia's work ethic is what many believe separates him from most riders who have their first taste of success. At 6 a.m. Sunday, about 14 hours after guiding Lahudood to victory in Saturday's BC Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park, Garcia was at Belmont Park getting prepared to get on horses. The same thing Monday morning.

"Obviously, he's a very talented rider, makes all the right decisions, rarely gets in trouble, but his work ethic is outstanding," said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Lahudood and for whom Garcia has ridden 35 winners in 2007. "The day after the Breeders' Cup he's in the kitchen at 6 o'clock in the morning. He's a worker, loves to come out in the morning and work horses. He's got a great attitude and got a great personality. He's a real good kid, and he loves the game."

Garcia, like Jara the previous winter, hooked up with McLaughlin during Aqueduct's 2006-07 inner-track meeting. Coming off top-five finishes in the standings at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands in 2006, Garcia rode 13 winners from 30 starters for McLaughlin during the winter. Overall, Garcia finished that meet with 61 wins, fourth in the standings.

Garcia finished third in the jockey standings during Aqueduct's spring meeting and was planning to return to Monmouth Park for the summer, but McLaughlin said he could continue to ride for him. Also, leading trainer Gary Contessa and his top owner, Steve Sigler's Winning Move Stable, offered Garcia the chance to ride first call for them. That didn't last long after Tony Micallef, Garcia's agent, and Contessa got into a disagreement.

"It's a love/hate relationship with Gary," Micallef said. "He's tough to deal with. But he gave us a shot; we have nothing against him. When you're winning, guys start seeing, and they pay attention and they saw what Gary and Kiaran have seen."

From limited opportunities, Garcia has a high win percentage with many of this circuit's top outfits, including Barclay Tagg (6 for 22), Linda Rice (10 for 43), Tony Dutrow (6 for 12), and Richard Dutrow Jr. (4 for 10).

Micallef, who has had Garcia's book for two years, said Garcia has made a very nice transition from the New Jersey to New York circuit. He said the two areas where Garcia has improved the most are his patience and the way he rides the New York turf courses.

"He came from Monmouth Park, where it's get-up-and-go there," Micallef said. "But he's learned very well riding with guys like [Edgar] Prado and Johnny [Velazquez] - patience, especially riding at Belmont, where you turn for home and you still got a long way to go. His turf riding has changed tremendously, too, with patience and learning to save ground.''

Micallef, who briefly held Jara's book before his career took off, said both riders are similar, though Garcia has a better way of communicating with trainers.

"Alan's a lot more outgoing than Fernando was," Micallef said. "You talk to him after a race, he could give you good feedback. Not to say that Fernando didn't, he was just a little more quiet."

Last year, Jara changed agents at year's end and decided to winter at Gulfstream, where he won 17 races and finished 17th in the rider standings. Garcia said he plans to stay in New York for the winter and go out of town when needed, such as Nov. 25, when he will ride Dance Away Capote for Tagg in the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood Park.

"I don't think it's my time to go to Florida yet," Garcia said. "I want to keep winning. If I go to Florida, it's like Saratoga - it's tough. I can learn, I can win, but I don't know if I ride too many horses. This is New York - everybody sees if you win here, you can go anywhere."