03/31/2006 1:00AM

Leparoux continues trend of runaway leading rider


When apprentice jockey Julien Leparoux broke the Turfway Park record for most wins in a meet Wednesday, the news was significant, although not very surprising. Riding records at Turfway have fallen with such regularity in recent years that it resembles the home-run barrage that is taking place in Major League Baseball.

In five of the last seven years, the leading rider during Turfway's winter-spring meet has established a Turfway meet record for most victories. First, Tony D'Amico won 85 races in 2000; Kris Prather won 109 in 2001; Jason Lumpkins won 111 in 2003; Rafael Bejarano won 150 in 2004; and through Thursday, Leparoux had won 154 races, with five days of racing remaining in the meet.

As a result of his successful Turfway meet, Leparoux is the leading rider in the nation by wins, with 43 more victories this year than Martin Garcia, who is second with 111.

The dominance of these Turfway riders begs the obvious question - why?

"I'd buy someone a steak dinner if they could tell me," said trainer Wayne Bearden.

He isn't the only one puzzled by the numbers. The dominance of Bejarano, who has become one of the nation's hottest young riders, is easy to grasp, and to a lesser extent, so is the success of Lumpkins, who has proven to be a winning rider across the country.

Beyond that, the record-setting performances may be a case of Kentucky horsemen following the hot hand more so than horsemen from other regions, and in Leparoux's case, he has the added benefit of having "the bug," a weight allowance given to apprentices.

Trainer Greg Foley, who used Bejarano extensively in 2004 and has teamed to win 24 races with Leparoux this year, said he believes Leparoux is a gifted rider.

"I think he's riding in one of the better colonies," he said, pointing out that Lumpkins, Willie Martinez, and Dean Sarvis have ridden at Turfway this meet, and Jesus Castanon has for a portion of the year.

Foley said he thinks Leparoux can continue to win at the upcoming Keeneland meet, perhaps cracking the top five in the standings.

"I really don't know," he said. "Maybe this kid is special."

If he can manage a top-five finish at Keeneland this spring, Leparoux will do something that the previous record-setting jockeys could not immediately accomplish, not even Bejarano, who recorded the best Keeneland meet among the group after wintering at Turfway. After his record-setting Turfway meet in 2004, Bejarano finished in a tie for seventh, with 7 winners from 87 mounts during the 2004 spring meet at Keeneland. Bejarano would later win fall riding titles at Keeneland, in 2004 and 2005, meets that draw fewer out-of-town horses and riders than those in the spring.

Bearden showing 'em how it's done

Leparoux isn't the only person putting up eye-opening statistics this winter. So is Bearden, who at age 76 is enjoying one of the best years of his 40-year training career. Through Thursday, he was second behind Foley in the winter-spring standings, with 22 winners from 49 starters. Leparoux has been aboard all those winners.

Bearden's numbers are even better as an owner. In that category, he is 14-2-3 from 21 starters.

"I keep telling people to put a feather bed behind me so I don't fall too hard," he said.

* Collateral Damage, coming off an eighth in the Tejano Run, is the likely favorite in a $25,600 optional claimer Sunday at Turfway. Leparoux rides.