10/14/2003 11:00PM

Jerkens sticks with his man Ganpath on Society Selection

Halfbridled, the favorite for the Juvenile Fillies, gallops under exercise rider Crystal Brown Wednesday at Santa Anita, where training has intensified for the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 25.

Few would have been surprised had Society Selection gotten a new rider for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Though Ray Ganpath had ridden her to victory in the Grade 1 Frizette earlier this month, he still has had just 37 wins 260 mounts in this country and has never traveled farther west than Stanton, Del.

And heck, Gary Stevens and Edgar Prado were available.

But Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens believes in Ganpath, and Jerkens convinced owners Irv and Marjorie Cowan to believe in him as well.

"It's just a case where I think he's going to ride her as good as anybody else would," said Jerkens, who has always championed the unheralded riders. "He certainly showed the other day he didn't flinch under fire. I think he's going to do the best job on this filly."

So, far Ganpath has done a flawless job with Society Selection. In addition to being her regular exercise rider, Ganpath has been aboard for both of her victories. In the Frizette, Ganpath rallied Society Selection past Victory U. S. A. in the stretch for a 1 1/4-length victory, his first in a stakes race.

Ganpath, 30, is a native of Trinidad and did not grow up in a racing family. His parents owned two apartments and rented one out to a jockey. Ganpath accompanied that jockey to the track one day and he was hooked on the sport.

Ganpath attended a jockey school in Trinidad. One of his instructors was a former rider named Shaffick Mohammed. In 1992, when the school was dissolved because of financial reasons, Mohammed came to the United States and began working for Jerkens and in 1997 went to work for Jimmy Jerkens, Allen's son.

Ganpath rode eight years in Trinidad, where racing is conducted only 40 days a year. When Ganpath was in New York to visit Mohammed in the late 1990's, Mohammed asked Allen Jerkens to give Ganpath a job. Ganpath has worked full-time for Jerkens for three years.

"I knew he had the ability and talent and aptitude for it," Mohammed said. "He listens - he pays attention and tries to carry your instructions out to detail."

At age 19, Ganpath was 4-foot-9. Over the next two years, he grew another foot, and his friends told him his riding career was in jeopardy. But Ganpath was able to keep his weight down without much problem and says the 111 pounds he now weighs is the heaviest he has been.

"Sometimes when you ride little horses it tends to bother you a little bit," Ganpath said of his height. "But when you come riding in the stretch you forget about all that."

Though the Breeders' Cup will be the biggest race Ganpath will have ridden in, both Mohammed and Jerkens believe he will not wilt under the pressure.

"He doesn't get nervous and panicky. He keeps his composure as a jockey, and that's important," Mohammed said. "It'd be a blessing for Allen Jerkens to win a race like the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and it'd be great for Ray Ganpath to win it for him.'"