11/29/2011 1:49PM

Golden Gate: Valdivia finds his spot by the Bay

Vassar Photography
Our Nautique (rail), wridden by Kevin Krigger, wins the All American.

When was the last time that a jockey decided to make Northern California his riding home the same year he won the Belmont Stakes?

The answer is last week, and the rider is Jose Valdivia Jr., who rode in Northern California in 1996, finishing second in the Bay Meadows winter meet.

That Valdivia, who was riding in Southern Califorinia after a stint back east, has opted to settle in Northern California tells a lot about the state of horse racing today.

“Every track struggles for horses,” said Valdivia.

“There’s nothing like winning, but to do that, you need to have a top agent or a top outfit supporting you. You need that help.Valdivia said that when the opportunity came up to work with agent Ray Harris, “I took it because I think I’ll have a better chance to get live mounts than down south.”

Harris also books mounts for the world’s winningest rider, Russell Baze. He has worked with other riders, who have wound up doing well in the past even while Baze was winning riding titles.

“He’s the utmost professional,” Valdivia said. “When I was riding here, I had a chance to see him work. He knows the game.”

Last June, Valdivia might have been one of the last riders Harris would have thought he would be representing on Thanksgiving.

“It shows how fickle the business can be,” said Harris.

“I hope I can do well for him. I like him.”

Valdivia, who won the 2011 Belmont aboard Ruler On Ice, also has a Breeders’ Cup win (the 2001 Mile aboard Val Royal). He is a proven rider with 1,180 victories.

Though he knows riding is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately proposition, Valdivia says, “I think winning the Belmont is still on people’s minds.”

Despite his credentials, Valdivia is joining a Northern California jockey colony that may be as deep as it has ever been.

Baze, with his 11,474 victories, has been the kingpin here for more than 20 years.

Aaron Gryder, who trails Baze by roughly 8,000 wins with his 3,434 victories, has ridden with success here since his arrival for the Golden Gate 2011 winter-spring meet.

Frank Alvarado has 2,600-plus wins, Francisco Duran 1,200, and David Lopez recently notched his 1,000th victory.

All American ride quite a feat

The hottest rider of late has been Kevin Krigger, who has found a home in Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn and has won the past three Golden Gate stakes, including last Friday’s Grade 3 All American, which he stole aboard Our Nautique.

“Kevin’s been pretty steady for us, and he loves this horse,” said Hollendorfer after Krigger’s perfect ride aboard Our Nautique.

“We all like to ride Russell, but there are a lot of others, too, said Hollendorfer, noting that “in big races, Frank Alvarado is “always good. And the younger guys like [Juan] Hernandez and [Inoel] Beato are learning how to rate speed.”

Bill Morey Jr., whose Bold Chieftain ran second, losing by a neck to Our Nautique, and Lloyd Mason, whose Dunmore East finished third, both said their riders, Baze (aboard Bold Chieftain) and Beato (aboard Dunmore East) should have challenged Krigger when Uh Oh Bango, who figured to challenge Our Nautique early, hopped in the air at the start, almost unseating Gryder.

But Morey said Krigger may have snookered his rivals.

“When that horse reared in the gate, everyone should have gone to Plan B when that horse was eliminated,” said Morey. “I don’t know how jockeys racing for $100,000 don’t challenge a horse like that early.”

Morey credited Krigger in part for that.

“He has a way of making you think he doesn’t have as much horse as he really has,” he said.

Apprentice doing well back east

Kyle Frey, grandson of jockey Paul Frey and son of exercise rider Jay Frey, began his riding career here last year but went east in the spring with agent Mark North.

He may find himself in consideration for the Eclipse Award as 2011’s top apprentice.

He ranks 63rd among U.S. riders with 132 victories and $3,513,435 in earnings, most of which have come at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania.

He is sixth in the Parx standings, but he has more wins than any other rider there the past three months with 57 victories. His 21-percent win percentage for that period is only a point below the winning percentage of Kendrick Carmouche, Parx’s leading rider. His 56-percent in-the-money percentage is the best of all Parx riders during the period.

“He’s ridden at Parx, Penn National, Monmouth, and Delaware. That’s why he came back here to get more opportunities to ride,” said North, who has enjoyed success with other apprentices.

North says Frey has solid connections with several of Parx’s leading trainers, such as Ramon Preciado, Carlos Guerrero, and Butch Reid.

“His riding has really improved, and the trainers have said they’ll ride him when he loses his bug in January,” North said.

“He’s level-headed, and he has good bloodlines. He picks things up quickly and looks good competing with other riders. I think he’ll do well even after losing his bug, and, frankly, I haven’t thought that with some of the other apprentices that have done well back here.”

All American aftermath

The first three finishers of the All American came out of the race fine.

Mason said that there was a special allowance race coming up before the end of the meet on Dec. 19 where he might run Dunmore East. He said he was happy the 4-year-old colt had a graded stakes placing. He added his star would probably have to go on the road for stakes opportunities in 2012.

Morey said that Bold Chieftain, who will be retired to stud next year, would not look at the special allowance race “because it comes up too quick.”

He’s waiting to see what Golden Gate’s stakes schedule may offer but might consider the $100,000 Crystal Water, a 1 1/16-mile race for California-breds at Santa Anita on Jan. 28 that replaces the Sunshine Millions races.

The only reason Morey would consider another start for Bold Chieftain is because “he ran so darn good” in the All American.

Mason enjoyed a good week from Nov. 19 to Nov. 26, although he joked, “If we’d won the stakes, it would have been better.”

On Nov. 19, his son’s star sprinter, Shudacudawudya, scored a big allowance victory and will have one more chance in another special allowance event this year – if the race goes.

On the 26th, Dunmore East’s 3-year-old stablemate Soldiers Point scored a nice allowance sprint victory, defeating several stakes winners in the process.

Whereas Shudacudawudya will likely remain in sprints, Mason said Soldiers Point, an Ann Marie Farm homebred by Dehere, may ultimately stretch out.

Mason credits Noreen O’Neill, the wife of the late Ted O’Neill, for sending him runners such as Dunmore East and Soldiers Point.

“She says she’ll stay in the business, and she did a lot of research on the breeding,” Mason said.

Eight for Corte Madera

Saturday’s $75,000 Corte Madera for 2-year-old fillies at one mile closed with eight nominations.

Lady of Fifty, who won the Golden Gate Debutante by a head over Power of Nine, and Power of Nine will return for the Corte Madera.

Hennessy River, Lady of Fifty’s undefeated stablemate, and Run the Blues Away, who just won her maiden race, are also expected to run.

Saturday’s race would be the first route try for each of the four.