05/06/2006 12:00AM

Leparoux makes the grade - twice


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Apprentice rider Julien Leparoux, the leading jockey in the country by wins, scored the first graded-stakes victories of his career Friday by guiding Man of Illusion to victory in the Grade 3 Aegon Turf Sprint and Stream Cat to victory in the Grade 3 Crown Royal American Turf.

By winning those races, the 22-year-old Frenchman proved he could more than hold his own against the nation's elite riders, many of whom were in town to participate in the Kentucky Oaks and the many stakes that supported the card.

Just as significantly, Leparoux won those stakes without the standard five-pound weight allowance that he typically receives for being an apprentice. No weight allowance is given to apprentices in stakes races.

Despite that rule, Patrick Biancone, the trainer of Man of Illusion and Stream Cat and one of Leparoux's biggest supporters, said he didn't hesitate to use him.

"I ride the leading jockey in the country - I don't care about the weight," he said. "When you have the leading rider in the country, you wouldn't be very smart if you don't use him."

Leparoux even found himself with a mount in the Kentucky Oaks, Ex Caelis, although she was never a factor. Fractious in the starting gate, she sat down just before the start, forcing Leparoux to dismount briefly. Following the gate trouble, Ex Caelis raced in ninth early before being eased across the wire in last place.

It didn't take long for Leparoux to rebound with a win. He won the next race, taking the nightcap aboard Touch Me Once, giving him three wins on the day.

The Friday victories helped Leparoux extend his lead in the Churchill Downs rider standings. Through Oaks day, he had won with 14 of 44 mounts, 7 victories ahead of Rafael Bejarano, whom he tied for the riding title at Keeneland this spring.

Dinner bell rings for harried aide

Marianna Seitz stays so busy as an administrative assistant for trainer Todd Pletcher that Seitz, a 25-year-old Lexington, Ky., native, sometimes can barely squeeze in a few minutes to eat. That certainly seemed the case on Derby Day, when Pletcher was scheduled to run eight horses at Churchill, including Bluegrass Cat and Keyed Entry in the Derby.

Seitz, a Notre Dame graduate and the daughter of prominent breeder Fred Seitz, handles all sorts of important but unheralded tasks for Pletcher, whose 175-horse stable is based on several fronts. Although an accomplished horsewoman who can easily handle virtually any job around the barn, Seitz most often can be found typing on a laptop computer in the barn office, taking care of innumerable details that are essential for such a huge operation to function properly.

Finding time to eat on Derby Day might have been a problem for Seitz, but Danny Bell planned to come to her culinary rescue. Every Derby Day since 1994, Bell, 55, has hosted a pig roast on the Churchill backstretch near Gate 8, feeding dozens, if not hundreds, of fans and horsemen during and after the races.

"I got here at 3:30 a.m. to start cooking the pig," said Bell, a Danville, Ky., native and Louisville resident. Besides the 155-pound pig, Bell and his wife, Jennifer, also bring the appropriate side dishes, making for a sensational feast.

Seitz was one who planned to partake. "I'm glad Danny will be there, or else I might starve," she joked.

Record Oaks program

Several wagering records were set Friday, Kentucky Oaks Day, when all-sources wagering on the 11-race card soared just past the $33 million mark, surpassing the Oaks record of $31.6 million set in 2004. Ontrack wagering, which does not include totals from the nearby Trackside simulcast annex, was more than $12.6 million.

All-sources wagering on the 132nd Oaks, which drew a full field of 14, was a race-record of nearly $9.9 million, a whopping 43 percent increase over the 2005 running, when just seven horses started.

Ontrack attendance of 108,065 was second in Oaks history to the 111,243 who attended last year.

The payoff of $96.20 for the winning filly, Lemons Forever, also was an Oaks record.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee