04/05/2002 12:00AM

Jockey Arriaga critical following brain surgery

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Jockey Jose Arriaga was in critical condition in intensive care unit after suffering a severe head injury in a fall in Thursday's fifth race at Bay Meadows and undergoing brain surgery.

Arriaga was awake Friday morning and was able to answer questions about where he was, according to his agent, Roger Olguin.

Arriaga's mount, Mother Fear, was running in midpack and to the outside on the turn when she ducked out sharply. Arriaga fell, and a trailing horse tried to jump over him, possibly clipping him in the head, although video was inconclusive.

He was taken to Stanford Hospital in Stanford, Calif., and underwent three hours of surgery to drain a large blood clot on the right side of his brain. Bay Meadows track physician Dr. David Seftel said the neurosurgeon who performed the operation was confident he had "evacuated all the blood."

"He received a blow to the back of his head just below his helmet," Dr. Seftel said. "He had a 1 1/2-inch laceration on the back of his head."

Arriaga was conscious when Seftel reached him on the track and wanted to stand, but Seftel said he convinced him to remain motionless until he could be stabilized.

"We were very fortunate to get him to Stanford and into surgery so quickly," said Seftel.

Seftel said that doctors at Stanford reported positive signs Friday. Not only was Arriaga able to talk, but he also was able to breathe on his own. He also showed no apparent weakness on either side of his body.

Despite the improvement, Arriaga was still listed in critical condition and will remain in the ICU to be monitored closely for several more days before being taken to a surgical ward where rehabilitation can begin.

"There is a long recuperation period with a brain injury and many peaks and troughs," Seftel said.

Two concerns are seizures and high blood pressure. Seftel said Arriaga is receiving medications to aid against those occurrences.

Arriaga, 25, was born in Mexico City and rode match races as a youngster before his family moved to Merced, Calif., in the early 1990's. After graduating from high school, he began galloping horses at Stockton and then came to Golden Gate Fields, where he worked for trainer Dennis Hopkins.

Arriaga, who has 576 career victories from 4,621 mounts, got his apprentice license in 1996 and was northern California's leading apprentice in 1997. He won his first stakes races in 1999 with Hemmingway in the Redwood Empire at Santa Rosa and with Numero Uno in the San Leandro at Bay Meadows.

He scored his biggest victory one year ago when he guided Takin It Deep from off the pace to win the California Derby.

He finished second behind Russell Baze at the just-concluded Golden Gate Fields meeting with 71 victories.