04/10/2006 11:00PM

Leparoux faring well early on


LEXINGTON, Ky. - One of the most intriguing questions going into the Keeneland spring meet centered on how apprentice Julien Leparoux would fare against some of the world's top jockeys.

So far, so good.

Leparoux, shut out on the Friday opener, proceeded to win a total of five races on the next two cards, giving him an early lead in the jockey standings at the 15-day meet.

Leparoux, a 22-year-old Frenchman, is North America's leading rider, with 172 wins this year (into Wednesday), but skeptics might say he amassed those big numbers by riding against lesser competition at the winter-spring meet at Turfway Park. Only in isolated cases - most notably, Rafael Bejarano, who dominated in 2003-04 before expanding his horizons - does a Turfway jockey go on to make a genuine impact on the national scene.

From his 20 mounts on opening weekend, Leparoux won a $10,000 claiming race, three allowances, and the Lafayette Stakes, becoming the first apprentice in recent memory to win a stakes at Keeneland. In a Sunday allowance win, Leparoux showed uncommon polish for a bugboy when he guided Louve Royale, trained by Leparoux's mentor, Patrick Biancone, to a head victory over Sky High Flyer, a highly regarded European import trained by Bobby Frankel.

For all his success, Leparoux is still subject to the occasional rookie lapse. When riding Ice N Lemon to a neck victory in the seventh race Saturday, a 1 1/16-mile allowance, he kept whipping and driving his mount long after the race was over. A longstanding Keeneland peculiarity is that 1 1/16-mile dirt races begin and end at what is otherwise the sixteenth pole, and Leparoux had his mind on the regular finish line farther down the stretch.

"I forget," Leparoux said with a grin soon afterward.

With his apprenticeship intact until late September, Leparoux will continue riding with a five-pound weight allowance (except in stakes). And if he keeps winning the way he has, nobody will be able to forget him.

Perfect Drift in season debut

Perfect Drift, the ageless warrior with nearly $4.3 million in earnings, makes his 7-year-old debut Thursday, when he faces seven other older horses in the seventh race, a $68,000 classified allowance at 1 1/8 miles on the Keeneland turf.

Although Perfect Drift has won just 2 of 6 starts on grass, trainer Murray Johnson said he prefers to have Perfect Drift start out each year on a "more forgiving" surface. Perfect Drift, with Mark Guidry to ride, will face several accomplished grass rivals, including the German import Tiganello, in his Thursday comeback.

Music School might try Lexington

Trainer Neil Howard said Tuesday at Churchill Downs that he is tentatively pointing Music School to the Grade 2, $350,000 Lexington Stakes, which will be run here April 22 as the last significant Kentucky Derby prep. Music School, an A.P. Indy colt owned by a partnership headed by Will Farish, finished eighth in the March 18 Rebel Stakes in his latest start.

At this early juncture, the likely favorite for the 1 1/16-mile Lexington is Showing Up, the unbeaten colt trained by Barclay Tagg. Showing Up would be making up for lost time in the Lexington, having been forced to miss the Wood Memorial last weekend because of a foot bruise.

Other possible starters for the Lexington include Sunriver and Sam's Ace, the three-four finishers in the April 1 Florida Derby.

Undercard has two Grade 2's

Two Grade 2 races serve as secondary features on Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes undercard:

the $400,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup and the $200,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes.

The seven-furlong Commonwealth is expected to get Kazoo, who scratched from the Grade 1 Carter Handicap last Saturday, when the Aqueduct main track came up sloppy.

"He seems to fit better there," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., referring to the Commonwealth.

The Jenny Wiley, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares, is shaping up with a medium-to-large field, headed by Wend.

Entries for all 10 Saturday races were to be drawn Wednesday.

* The Friday feature is the Grade 2, $250,000 Maker's Mark Mile on turf, in which Artie Schiller, the 2005 Breeders' Cup Mile winner, figures to be a solid favorite in his season debut. Other probables include Aragorn, Cacique, Good Reward, Gulch Approval, Honor in War, and Miesque's Approval.

* There will be no racing Sunday at Keeneland because of the Easter holiday. Entries for the Wednesday (April 19) program, will be drawn Monday, one day later than normal.