07/26/2004 11:00PM

Jersey suits apprentice just fine for now


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Rajiv Maragh figured there was no point in heading to Saratoga. With one of the deepest jockey colonies in the world, Saratoga didn't figure to offer many opportunities for a seven-pound apprentice rider.

"I didn't want to go to Saratoga," Maragh said. "It's not a good place for an apprentice. You only get the leftovers with all the best jockeys there. You just don't get a chance."

Maragh, who had been riding at Belmont Park since May, decided that Monmouth Park was a better option for the remainder of the summer.

Maragh said that jockey agent Joe DiAngelo "said he could get me on some good horses. And the money is pretty good. That's what attracted me."

Maragh has three mounts on the Thursday card. His best shot looks to be Digital Delight in the third race, a maiden claimer for 2-year-old fillies.

Digital Delight has run twice in maiden special weights, and her last was a strong late-running effort to get third place. She joins Market Research, also third last time, as part of an entry sent out by trainer Joe Pierce.

Maragh's other two mounts are both trained by Dieter Held - Count on Dolly in the seventh and Clownaround in the ninth - and both raced at Colonial Downs most recently.

Maragh, 19, was born into racing in his native Jamaica. His father, Collin Maragh, was a jockey in Jamaica and now trains at Calder.

"I've got a lot of uncles who were jockeys," said Maragh. "I was around horses all my life. I always wanted to be a jockey. My dad taught we how to ride."

Maragh plans to remain in New Jersey through the fall Meadowlands meet before heading to Aqueduct for the winter.

Vazquez back after kick

Gammy Vazquez proved he could take a kick and keep on ticking.

The Monmouth-based trainer for leading owner Michael Gill, Vazquez bounced back after taking a hard blow in the winner's circle Saturday from Ticket to Freedom.

The gelding caught Vazquez with a kick to the right knee that left a gash and a horseshoe imprint, but no fracture.

The initial fear was that the blow had shattered the kneecap.

"I heard a loud crack," said Vazquez. "I was in incredible pain."

Vazquez left the track by ambulance and went to a local hospital for X-rays. He was released later that night.

He hobbled back to the track Sunday on crutches, which doctors told him will be required for two weeks. They also explained that he was lucky.

Vazquez saw the kick coming and tried to get out of the way. His leg was in motion when the hoof connected. Had Vazquez been stationary, the impact could have crushed the knee.