04/19/2005 11:00PM

Irishman James Graham hits elite U.S. jockey leader board


LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the second half of the 16-day Keeneland spring meet began Wednesday, the jockey standings were replete with names that are familiar even to casual racing fans.

Jerry Bailey was the co-leader with 10 wins, while the top 10 also included such established stars as John Velazquez, Gary Stevens, Robby Albarado, and Edgar Prado.

And therein lies perhaps the best story of the meet thus far: James Graham, an unheralded 25-year-old from Dublin, Ireland, also had ridden 10 winners, placing him in a tie with Bailey atop this veritable all-star cast of jockeys.

"I could not have imagined this," Graham said before the Wednesday card. "Coming in, I only hoped to win as many races as we did last year."

Graham, then an apprentice, won with 7 of 40 mounts at the 2004 Keeneland spring meet. Following a productive meet at Arlington Park, where he lost his weight allowance in August, he won with 5 of 61 mounts here in the fall. And although he went on to have something of a breakout meet at Fair Grounds, where his 81 winners made him second only to Albarado, Graham said he had "no clue" that he would emerge as a leading rider here this spring.

Stevens, who is riding on a regular basis with Graham for the first time, said Graham "might be the best young rider in the country."

Graham's agent is former trainer Britt McGehee, who said the young jockey is "as hardworking and humble as you could ask for."

Graham said he is staying in Lexington with a friend from Dublin and that because they do not go out often, he has not noticed being treated any differently by fans simply because he is a leading jockey at one of North America's elite race meets.

"I don't want any special treatment," he said. "I just want to be a regular Joe. I'm going out every morning and every afternoon, working as hard as I can to try to become a better rider."

Graham said he hopes the momentum he has built at Keeneland will help to make him the leading rider at Arlington, where he will go for a four-month meet that starts May 13.

Dance Daily dazzles first time out

The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Dance Daily raised some eyebrows with a seventh-to-first rally in Wednesday's third race, a 4 1/2-furlong dash for maiden juvenile fillies. Breaking about three lengths behind the field, she quickly rushed into contention before being checked in traffic as the field raced around the turn. Then once angled to the outside in the stretch, she accelerated under Rafael Bejarano for a two-length victory in her racing debut.

Never Enough finished second in the talent-laden maiden field, three-quarters of a length in front of the 3-2 favorite, Ready to Please. Lunargal, a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Lunarpal, faded to fourth after setting the pace.

Dance Daily was timed in 53.27 seconds, the fourth-fastest time of six such 2-year-old maiden races run this meet at Keeneland. Lukas, checking her time on the tote board after the race, said "she probably ran in 50" seconds - referring to her slow break and traffic difficulties.

Lukas credited owners Bob and Beverly Lewis for their willingness at Barretts March select 2-year-olds in training sale to purchase Dance Daily, who is by Five Star Day, a young, unproven sire. She was the most expensive filly in the Barretts sale, bringing $600,000.

Lukas said he is hesitant to race her back on 2 1/2 weeks rest against males in the Three Chimneys Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby undercard. She is not among the original 84 nominees to the five-furlong Three Chimneys, but could be supplemented for $5,000.

Second of June gets in a workout

Second of June had his first workout since finishing a close second to Grand Reward in the April 9 Oaklawn Handicap, breezing five furlongs in 1:02 Wednesday at Churchill.

Second of June, trained by Bill Cesare, probably will make his next start in the May 20 Pimlico Special.

In one other Wednesday work of note, Miracle Man, one of the likely favorites for the April 30 Derby Trial, breezed a half-mile in 50.40 seconds at Keeneland. Miracle Man, trained by John Hennig, is unbeaten in three starts.

Stormy Afternoon dies of heart attack

Stormy Afternoon, one of the top Illinois-bred 2-year-olds of 2004, died of a massive heart attack while training at Churchill last Friday morning, said trainer Bob DeSensi.

Stormy Afternoon, owned by a partnership headed by Chicago broadcaster Ron Magers, had run twice this year, finishing second in a Turfway Park allowance, then fifth in the March 26 Rushaway Stakes at Turfway. By Afternoon Deelites, the colt had four races at 2, winning once and finishing second as an odds-on favorite in an Illinois-bred stakes at Hawthorne in November.

Scooter back at the track

Charles "Scooter" Dickey is back in business after a brief fling with farm life. Dickey, a licensed trainer since 1963, has a handful of horses stabled at Churchill Downs after returning from a several-month stint as a private trainer on Never Tell Farm in Versailles, Ky.

"I'll be up to eight head soon," said Dickey. "Couldn't keep me away from the racetrack."

- additional reporting by Byron King