08/22/2008 12:00AM

Lebron could be next star to emerge


In recent years the Kentucky circuit has been a proving ground for Rafael Bejarano and Julien Leparoux, young riding standouts who have gone on to succeed at the highest levels of American racing.

Another such star might well be in the making: Victor Lebron has been dominating the Ellis Park meet, and some trainers believe he is primed for a step up in company.

"He rides a really good race," said trainer Dale Romans, who teamed with Lebron to win the premier race of the Ellis meet, the Grade 3 Gardenia Handicap, last weekend with Swift Temper. Lebron also rode the winners of the other two stakes on the Aug. 16 card, as well as two allowance races.

"I think Victor could be a factor at big meets like Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and somewhere in the winter, maybe Gulfstream or Oaklawn," said Romans.

After galloping horses for several years in his home country, St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lebron, 24, came to the United States in 2005. On the advice of a friend who imported racehorses from the U.S. to the Virgin Islands, he began riding races at Thistledown in Cleveland. He got off to a slow start there, winning with just 8 of 178 mounts, but in less than two years he had become a perennial leading rider at tracks such as Turfway Park, Hoosier Park, and Indiana Downs. Into Friday action at Ellis, he had won 55 races at the meet, more than double his closest pursuer in the jockey standings.

"Things are going my way," said Lebron, whose agent is Jimmy McNerney. "One of my goals is to try to hit the big spots."

After Ellis ends Sept. 1, Lebron will have a busy fall, alternating between Hoosier and Kentucky tracks through late November.

"I will try to ride at Keeneland and Churchill this fall," he said. "After that I will decide where to go."

Lies to call Kentucky Downs races

John Lies will replace the late Luke Kruytbosch as the race caller at Kentucky Downs, the turf-only track gearing up for its annual six-day meet next month. Lies has worked primarily as the race caller at Lone Star Park and as an in-house television host at Del Mar.

Kentucky Downs, located in the south-central Kentucky town of Franklin, has two new twists to its meet: the annual Kentucky Cup turf series will be held on opening day of the meet, Sept. 13, and a leased Jumbotron will be stationed in the infield during the first two days of racing.

Kentucky Downs spokesman Jon Goodman said the three-race Kentucky Cup turf series normally would have been held on Sept. 20, a week before the richer Kentucky Cup series at Turfway Park, but conflicts with the Sept. 19-21 Ryder Cup in Louisville and a highly popular car show in Franklin led to the scheduling change.

Kentucky Downs will run Sept. 13, 15, 16, 20, 22, and 23.

Elite Squadron injured, retired

Elite Squadron has been retired after suffering what trainer Jim Baker described as a "minor soft-tissue injury" when finishing a close second in his final start, the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap on July 5 at Hollywood Park. Owned by Tom Walters, the 4-year-old colt won 5 of 14 starts and $507,059.

"It's the kind of thing he could easily come back from, but the timing is such that we won't be able to make the Phoenix in October at Keeneland, which we'd need as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint," said Baker. "So Tom made the decision to go ahead and retire him."

Elite Squadron, by Officer, competed primarily in sprints and won two stakes, most notably the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap on the May 3 Kentucky Derby undercard. Walters said he is entertaining offers for the colt as a stud prospect for 2009.

Bindner stunned by rider's death

Veteran trainer Walt Bindner Jr. is among the many Kentucky horsemen reeling from the news of Parker Buckley's death. Buckley, 40, died Tuesday in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., while working as an exercise rider for the Steve Asmussen stable.

"Parker was such a great person to be around," said Bindner, who through the years had employed Buckley frequently as a jockey and exercise rider. "He was never in a bad mood. You could chew him out, and he'd say, 'Gee, I didn't mean to do it like that,' and just go on about his business. This is such a tragedy."

Buckley spent quite a bit of his time in Kentucky, where his two children, ages 14 and 12, live in Louisville with his ex-wife.

Keeneland to discuss expansion

Keeneland will hold a public forum Monday at 6 p.m. in the sales pavilion to solicit opinions and input on how best to proceed with the planned expansion and renovation of its racing facility. Keeneland president Nick Nicholson and Russ Simons of design consultant HOK Sport will preside over the meeting.

Keeneland officials have said they are looking to expand partly as a means to possibly host future runnings of the Breeders' Cup championships at the Lexington, Ky., track.

Due Date heads turf sprint

The Sunday feature at Ellis is an entry-level $23,100 turf allowance in which Due Date figures as a solid favorite in a field of nine. Jamie Theriot will be aboard Due Date for trainer Steve Margolis in the 5 1/2-furlong feature, which goes as the 10th of 11 races. First post is 12:40 p.m. Central.

Only one stakes remains at the Ellis meet: the $50,000 Tri-State Handicap, to be run next Saturday.