04/21/2010 12:00AM

Jacinto, Melancon start meet strong

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A couple of familiar names in the riding ranks are off to hot starts at Evangeline Downs. John Jacinto, a two-time riding champion at Louisiana Downs in his second full season here, and veteran Gerard Melancon, who also won a pair of riding crowns at Louisiana Downs as well as titles here and at Delta Downs, have accounted for 19 wins between them during the first eight days of the season.

Jacinto, 34, began to build momentum late in the Fair Grounds meeting that concluded in March, including nine wins during a two-day span in the final month of the season.

"I had six winners in one day at Louisiana Downs," Jacinto said. "But I guess with nine winners over two days I broke my own record. I just did what I always do - put them in a spot where I think they can win."

Jacinto continued his streaky ways last Friday by winning three of the first four races on the program. All three were for perennial Evangeline training king Keith Bourgeois. Riding first call for that powerful stable has played a key role in determining the riding champion here in recent seasons.

Melancon, 43, also has teamed up with Bourgeois this season. Their most notable effort came last Saturday in the season's first turf race - the John Henry Stakes.

With Jacinto firmly committed to the previously unbeaten and favored Snakebite Kit in the John Henry, Melancon and Colby Hernandez executed the perfect rabbit-closer gambit on the Bourgeois-trained entry of Deputiformer and Ashe's Cat. Hernandez, another former Evangeline riding champ with ties to Bourgeois, scooted Ashe's Cat out to the early lead through fractions of 22.82 seconds and 46.50, while Melancon craftily kept Deputiformer near the back of the pack. Melancon then put on a ground-saving clinic that would have made former Cajun contemporary Calvin Borel proud, squeezing through a narrow opening past the furlong marker to prevail by a nose over longshot And Music Came, who took a more conventional four-wide route.