02/03/2009 1:00AM

Leparoux suddenly catches fire


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Jockey Julien Leparoux admits he really didn't know what to expect when he decided to join perhaps the toughest jockey colony in the country and ride full time at Gulfstream Park for the first time this winter. And after getting off to a bit of a slow start, the French-born rider might have been second-guessing himself for making that choice.

But any doubts about whether Leparoux could hold his own here this meet disappeared within a three-day span from Friday through Sunday. He won nine races on those three days, including both major 3-year-old stakes, the Grade 2 Hutcheson with Capt. Candyman Can and the Grade 3 Holy Bull aboard Saratoga Sinner.

Those two victories came for Kentucky-based horsemen Ian Wilkes and Eddie Kenneally, respectively. Another Kentucky trainer, Michael Maker, has also been a major supporter of the 25-year-old Leparoux, whose 16 victories through Sunday had him in a dead heat for third in the standings with another first-year Gulfstream rider, Alan Garcia, and veteran John Velazquez. They are just two victories behind leaders Jose Lezcano and Kent Desormeaux.

Leparoux came to Gulfstream with an impressive resume that included an Eclipse Award as the nation's leading apprentice in 2006. That year, he became the first apprentice rider to win a championship at Churchill Downs since 1946, capturing two titles, and the first ever to win a riding title at Keeneland. Leparoux also had a big year in 2008, winning 210 races and purses totaling just under $12 million. He capped the season by guiding Forever Together to victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

"I knew I was going to ride, to have some business here this winter but I wasn't sure what to expect," said Leparoux. "This is a good colony, a really good colony, so I have to be very pleased with the way things have gone so far."

Leparoux, who won four races on Friday, including the Hutcheson, was lucky to escape injury Saturday when tossed from his mount Polished after the maiden 3-year-old stumbled at the start of the third race. Leparoux picked himself up off the ground and returned to win three of the next four races on the card, culminating with his victory in the Holy Bull aboard the 12-1 Saratoga Sinner.

"Having two good 3-year-olds at this time of year is always good," said Leparoux. "Saratoga Sinner has already won twice going a mile and one-eighth over this track, and Capt. Candyman Can has a lot of ability. He's learned to relax and has come a long way since last year."

Leparoux's ride aboard Capt. Candyman Can was textbook, and just what Wilkes was looking for. After breaking alertly and finding himself up with the early leaders, Leparoux eased Capt. Candyman Can back off the pace midway down the backstretch, angled him out three wide turning for home, and then under confident handling was able to overtake and edge away from another top Derby prospect, Hello Broadway.

"Julien is a very talented rider," said Wilkes. "He has all the gifts - patience, the ability to get a horse to relax, and he can put a horse wherever you want in a race. He can also come back and tell you something about a horse after a race. Another of his biggest assets is that he's willing to work as hard in the morning as he does in the afternoon."

Leparoux also knows it's a long way from the last Saturday in January to the first Saturday in May.

"Anything can happen with these horses between now and Derby Day," said Leparoux. "It's a good place to be right now, but we'll just have to wait and see what the future brings."

Biker Boy picks up where he left off

No trainer is more passionate about his horses than Nick Zito, who was full of emotion after Biker Boy returned from a nine-month layoff to score an impressive allowance win going seven furlongs on Sunday.

Biker Boy, who began his career winning 2 of his first 3 starts, including a second-level allowance race going a mile at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, trounced a strong field in his comeback that included Joppa Flats and Song Shan.

Biker Boy, 4, is owned by Rick Porter, who purchased the horse privately last year.

"That was tremendous," said Zito immediately after the race. "We had to take a chip out shortly after he won that race at Churchill last year and it's always disappointing when you have such a talented horse and have to lose most of his 3-year-old campaign like that. Fortunately, Rick is a patient guy. Hopefully, Biker Boy can stay healthy and we can make up for it and have a good year in 2009."

Zito said he'll probably try to bring Biker Boy back at a mile in his next start.

"He's got so much ability," said Zito. "That was quite a performance considering he hadn't run since May, but classy horses like this are easy to train. They get themselves ready. Good horses like this, they almost make you cry."

Zito scratched his top 3-year-old prospect, Nowhere to Hide, from the Holy Bull and instead will try his luck running Nowhere to Hide this Saturday at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star. Nowhere to Hide had drawn post 9 for the Holy Bull.

"I didn't like the post," Zito said. "So I just decided to wait for another day. I don't want to make a mistake, to waste a race with a good 3-year-old at this time of year."

Dutrow: A high and a low

Trainer Rick Dutrow had an up and down weekend himself. On Saturday he watched Arson Squad finish fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade 1 Donn. Dutrow then captured the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap the following afternoon with Kip Deville.

"I think the track played against Arson Squad," said Dutrow. "And when we got him back to the barn and scoped him he showed he'd bled inside. I've had bleeding issues with him in the past. He just had a bad day, but we'll regroup and I'm sure he'll bounce back next time."