07/03/2003 11:00PM

Hot jockey always worth following


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jockey Rafael Bejarano has been one of the best longshot jockeys at the Churchill Downs meet, and has continued to flourish in that category in recent days. Last Sunday, I noted that through June 25 he showed a hefty $2.60 ROI and an average win payoff of $27.13.

Those numbers reached even greater heights when Bejarano had a very nice day last Sunday. He was aboard six horses. When Bejarano won on Red Dice at $12.60 in the sixth race, his fourth mount of the day, he locked up a slight flat-bet gain for the day for his supporters. Any winners after that would be pure profit. He settled for second aboard Rocking Trick at 7-2 in the eighth race, and had just one mount remaining in the 10th.

La Femme Galante had trained well for her debut with five-furlong breezes in 1:01 and 1:00.40. Trainer Wayne Mackey had won with 19 percent of a small group of 21 starters this year, but showed no recent wins with a first-time starter.

There were others in the race with better credentials than La Femme Galante. Wholethebullout had run evenly while finishing fifth in her debut in December at Fair Grounds. Her 70 Beyer for that race was solid, and improvement seemed likely with extra credit awarded to her for the six months of growing up she had done during her time off.

Icanhaul had shown impressive early zip while grabbing a clear lead from the start, and lived up to her name through a quick 21.60 opening fraction in that 5 1/2-furlong race. She weakened late to finish second, beaten by 2 3/4 lengths in that race, but still earned a good 73 Beyer, and was adding Lasix. She was the second betting choice at 7-2.

Cabo Sunrise was the third betting choice at 4-1. Her best race had been a fourth-place finish in a highly rated maiden race at Gulfstream in her debut. But she had not threatened in her first try at Churchill, then settled for second with only a 61 Beyer here in her most recent start. She deserved consideration, but a fair amount of the betting support she received in this race was probably due to her popular connections. Any horse trained by Bill Mott and ridden by meet leader Cornelio Velasquez is likely to be an underlaid price.

Fourth betting choice Penne Ala Capaese looked like an interesting prospect. She had earned Beyers of 70 and 72 in her first two races, and figured to enjoy a favorable pace setup as a closer in a race that was likely to feature a good early pace. The catch was that she was cutting back from 7 1/2 furlongs to six furlongs, so she would need to make an earlier bid than usual to be effective.

Tchopitioulas was a first-time starter who also deserved respect. Although trainer Tom Proctor does his best work with horses second time out, he also has won with 19 percent of his debuting runners. Tchopitioulas showed a string of nice works, including a gate breeze in 35.80, a breeze in the slop in 1:00.60, and another in the same time over a fast track at Churchill. He was also warm on the board at 8-1.

With all of those contenders to sift through, it is not surprising that La Femme Galante slipped through the cracks. But 54-1 was still a pretty good price on a filly who had been working well for a trainer with a 19 percent batting average overall. La Femme Galante didn't just win this race. She was much the best when she cruised to a comfortable five-length victory.

When you follow a jockey who specializes in longshots with an average win payoff in the $30 range, you have to realize that none of those winners is likely to look much like a 4-5 favorite on paper.

That was the case here. After the first five betting choices, the next lowest odds in the field were 30-1. La Femme Galante only looked about sixth-best in this field of 12. But when you see that any jockey is showing an impressive return on investment from a large sample of races at a given race meet, and he is aboard a horse at long odds, that horse doesn't have to look like the best runner in the race to be worth including on your exotic tickets.

You should be willing to settle for any significant sign of life as proper justification to include the horse. In this case, La Femme Galante's nice works were good enough to qualify her for at least light use in the gimmicks. La Femme Galante paid $111 for her upset triumph. She also keyed a $3,662 trifecta and a $6,175 superfecta. Keep an eye on Bejarano for the rest of this year. We haven't yet seen the best of him.