08/09/2002 11:00PM

Ledezma doing well on his own

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - There are some who would suggest this is not a good time for an assistant trainer to go out on his own, but those people do not know Sergio Ledezma well.

Horse inventory is down. Worker's comp costs are skyrocketing. More owners seem to be getting out of the game than into it.

Ledezma weighed those factors into his decision late last year to go out on his own after working as Len Shoemaker's assistant for 18 years.

"I just thought maybe I'm getting old," said Ledezma, 42. "I thought I should try something different. You never know when will be the right time."

Ledezma saddled 22 horses without picking up a victory until he entered Irish Dumaani in an $8,000 maiden claimer at one mile May 19. Irish Dumaani rallied wide to win going away.

Though it was Ledezma's first official win as a trainer, he bred and prepared T.G.'s Girl (named for his sons Gus and Trenton) for victory four years ago. The filly won at Del Mar with Bill Spawr listed as the trainer of record.

Ledezma has been coming to the backstretch since he was 13, helping his father groom and care for horses for Southern California trainer Bob Wheeler.

Though he was 0 for 22 before Irish Dumaani, he wasn't discouraged or frustrated by his lack of success. "I was hanging tough," he said.

Ledezma, who has entered some Quarter Horses during the fair racing season, has done well since Irish Dumaani with five wins from 26 starters.

Ledezma said he enjoyed working with horses with his father and knew he had found a career.

"That's what I liked to do," he said.

He got an exercise rider's license in 1976, and worked horses for trainers such as Wheeler and Spawr in Southern California.

In 1977 when jockey Roberto Gonzalez, a longtime family friend, moved to northern California, Ledezma came with him, working as an exercise rider until taking out an assistant trainer's license in 1982.

He worked first for Doug Utley before moving to Shoemaker's barn.

"I'd known him for years," Shoemaker said. "He was hard-working, dedicated, and absolutely honest. He always gives his best at it, and, like a good athlete, gets others around him to lift their game up, too.

"He would get on horses and that would allow him to help determine a horse's condition more than just looking at it. It allowed him to become more and more involved in decisions. His input was as important, if not more so, as mine. We wound up more as partners than employer-employee."