09/23/2002 11:00PM

Jockey Melancon having career year at 35


BOSSIER CITY, La. - It's not every day that a Louisiana Downs rider is in a position to turn down a mount on one of the favorites for the $500,000 Super Derby in order to ride in a Grade 1 race in New York the same day. And things are definitely going that rider's way when he then wins the Vosburgh as impressively as Gerard Melancon did upon Bonapaw on Saturday.

Life got even sweeter for the 35-year-old Melancon on Monday when the connections of Bonapaw said they intend to supplement the gelding to the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park on Oct. 26.

"This is the best year I've ever had," said Melancon, whose Vosburgh win had the Louisiana Downs backstretch buzzing Sunday. "Things have taken off this year, this meet."

Indeed they have. Melancon leads the Louisiana Downs rider standings. He has won 181 races from 890 mounts this year and has purse earnings of $3.7 million.

The Vosburgh was the first Grade 1 win for Melancon, who was forced to turn down the mount on fourth-place Super Derby finisher The Judge Sez Who.

"It was a shame to miss the Super Derby. It would have been my first," said Melancon, who is a native of Louisiana. "My baby boy wanted to know why there wasn't a plane fast enough to make it back in time."

Bonapaw has been the Concorde that has propelled Melancon's success lately. He has teamed with the lightning-fast gelding for 20 consecutive races, dating back to November 2000, and says the 6-year-old Bonapaw has improved with age.

"He's relaxing so much better," said Melancon. "Mentally, he's gotten better."

Melancon has done his part not to disrupt Bonapaw's peace of mind. In the Vosburgh, he sat chilly on the horse until deep stretch. It was a confident ride from a jockey who has been riding with supreme confidence for the past year.

Last December at Fair Grounds, Melancon picked up career victory 2,000. From there, he finished third in the standings at Lone Star Park, and this meet at Louisiana Downs is winning races at a 25-percent clip to lead defending riding champ Kirk LeBlanc in the standings, 74 wins to 65.

Melancon's success here has been fueled by the support of high-percentage trainers such as Cole Norman and Troy Young, who are based at Louisiana Downs. He also maintains ties to some of the top Evangeline Downs stables that have shipped here more this meet than in past years because of Louisiana Downs's improved purse structure. Among them are Dale Angelle, Keith Bourgeois, and Don Cormier Sr.

"I've had the best of both worlds," said Melancon, who spends two days a week working horses at Evangeline, located three hours south of Louisiana Downs near his home in Lafayette.

Bedanken to Keeneland

Bedanken, a three-time stakes winner on dirt who won her turf debut Saturday in the $50,000 Marie P. DeBartolo Oaks, will remain on turf for her next start, which is scheduled to come in the Grade 3, $100,000 Valley View Stakes at Keeneland.

The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies will be run Oct. 19.

Donnie Von Hemel trains Bedanken for Pin Oak Stable.

* After offering about $200,000 a day in purses during its summer meet, which ended Sunday, Louisiana Downs will revert to a $100,000 a day purse structure beginning Thursday. The new purse schedule is in place for the remainder of the meet, which runs to Nov. 10.