10/22/2006 11:00PM

Leparoux and Bejarano tied with week to go

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They finished in a dead heat in the spring, and as the Keeneland fall meet winds to a conclusion, Julien Leparoux and Rafael Bejarano once again are in a pitched battle for leading-rider honors.

As the final four-day stretch of the meet commences Wednesday with a nine-race card, Leparoux and Bejarano both have 23 wins. They are hoping to secure as many mounts as possible through Saturday, the end of the 17-day meet, but whatever the final result, both are wishing each other well and are saying they thrive on the spirited rivalry that has unfolded.

Leparoux, 24, and Bejarano, 23, tied with 17 wins apiece in the spring while building on their national reputations. Leparoux, a native of France, has led all North American jockeys in wins throughout this year in a bid to match what Bejarano, a native of Peru, accomplished two years ago, when he led North American jockeys with 455 wins.

True to form, both jockeys will be live when their mounts stride onto the Keeneland turf course Wednesday for the featured eighth race, a $54,000 second-level allowance for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles in which horses must go around the track three times. Bejarano will ride Bea Plus, and Leparoux will ride Moon Maven.

Bea Plus, trained by former Todd Pletcher assistant George Weaver, stands to fare better than she did in her last start, at the Meadowlands on Sept. 30, when she finished fourth in her first start in more than five months. Considering she was good enough to win a first-level allowance over the Keeneland turf here last spring, and that she will be making her second start off a layoff, Bea Plus figures prominently when she stretches out Wednesday.

Moon Maven, trained by Graham Motion, also will be making her second start since an extended layoff and figures to prefer the additional ground. She came to peak form last winter at Gulfstream Park and would do well to revert to those efforts.

The field of 10 includes the G. Watts Humphrey entry of Indy Trouble and Natural Beauty. The race is one of three allowances on the card.

After Wednesday, the final three programs will be anchored by stakes races: the $125,000 Jessamine Stakes on Thursday, the $125,000 Bourbon Stakes on Friday, and the $150,000 Fayette Stakes on Saturday.