04/23/2006 11:00PM

Leparoux closing in on title

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Noble Stella, winning the Flaming Page, is a big threat to Louve Royale in Wednesday's Bewitch.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the 70-year history of Keeneland Race Course, an apprentice has never won a riding title.

The end of that drought may be imminent. Julien Leparoux, the 22-year-old Frenchman who leads North American riders in wins this year, holds a four-win lead over his closest pursuers atop the Keeneland standings heading into the final three days of the spring meet.

Leparoux won two races Sunday, including the Appalachian Stakes on Lady of Venice, which was his second stakes victory of the meet. Leparoux stands an excellent chance for a third stakes triumph Wednesday, when he rides Louve Royale in the Grade 3, $100,000 Bewitch Stakes.

, an Irish-bred 5-year-old, is one of six fillies and mares entered in the Bewitch. Louve Royale gave Leparoux one of his previous 16 wins at the meet when she rallied from far back in an April 9 allowance, a race that figures to set her up well for the Bewitch.

Louve Royale won her latest race despite turning back to 1 1/16 miles, shorter than her more preferred distances. With the Bewitch contested on grass at the infrequently run distance of 1 1/2 miles, her sustained run could be tough for her five opponents to deny.

Probably the strongest of those challengers are , who won an allowance here April 8; and Shared Dreams, a Christophe Clement-trained filly who won her lone North American start last month at Gulfstream Park.

Louve Royale will be saddled by Patrick Biancone, the French trainer who was responsible for bringing Leparoux to the United States. Biancone also is the trainer of Lady of Venice and Likely, who carried Leparoux to victory in the April 9 Lafayette Stakes.

Leparoux, who led Shaun Bridgmohan and the injured John Velazquez by a 16-12 margin into Wednesday, is bidding to eclipse the accomplishments of Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires. At the 1966 Keeneland spring meet, Fires started as an apprentice but lost his "bug," or weight allowance, during the meet, before ultimately finishing as the leading rider. Leparoux is not scheduled to lose his bug until late September, according to his agent, Steve Bass.

After the Bewitch, the spring stakes schedule closes out Thursday with the $150,000 Ben Ali and Friday with the $200,000 Elkhorn.