07/27/2006 11:00PM

Lezcano has grown up in a hurry


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The jockey focus prior to opening day at Monmouth Park centered on Joe Bravo's bid for a 12th title, the return of Eclipse Award winner Jorge Chavez, and the arrival of Eddie Castro from Florida.

Jose Lezcano barely got a mention.

At the midpoint, Lezcano has developed into one of the most compelling stories of the meet.

More confident and comfortable in his second year on the Jersey Shore, Lezcano is threatening to give Bravo a serious run for the title.

Bravo led Lezcano, 70-58, through Friday. Lezcano would be even closer if his six wins from the two Monmouth dates run at the Meadowlands in June were included in the totals.

Lezcano has been hot lately with 16 wins from July 19-28.

Only 21, the graduate of the Laffit Pincay Jockey School in his native Panama has improved his English along with his riding skills. Lezcano has become the go-to rider for the husband and wife training team of Francine Faraci-Walder and Peter Walder, the second-leading barn at the meet.

"He's improved a lot from last year," said Faraci-Walder. "Last year, I found he was more a one-pace kind of rider. This year, he is very versatile."

Last season, Lezcano came up from Florida to ride first call for trainer Kirk Ziadie. He won 57 races, good for fifth in the standings.

Ziadie did not return this year.

"He opened the door for me," Lezcano said. "This year, we've done it ourselves."

Agent Jason Beides opened new doors and Lezcano delivered.

"When Kirk elected not to come, a lot of people said that would really hurt us," Beides said. "At the start of the meet, everyone was talking about a lot of other riders that could upend Bravo. We've been flying under the radar."

Lezcano won the title at Tampa Bay Downs over the winter. Adding a Monmouth title would be a major career boost.

"It would be great, if it happened," Lezcano said. "I'm going to try hard. If not, I can wait another year."

Peter Walder doesn't think Lezcano will stick here much longer. Monmouth has traditionally been a springboard to bigger circuits for riders such as Julie Krone, Craig Perret, Chavez, Herb McCauley, and Eibar Coa.

"He kind of reminds me of Coa," Walder said. "Like Coa, he's very reserved. He doesn't show a lot of emotion but he's got the talent. He's a little shy and reserved. I think that once he opens up, I think he can move to the top level. I don't know how long he'll be here."

'Good Time' steps up for Colleen

Kelly Breen was feeling confident before Heckuva Good Time debuted at Monmouth against New Jersey-breds on June 28.

Heckuva Good Time rewarded that feeling with an eight-length victory under very mild urging.

The trainer still has a positive feeling as Heckuva Good Time steps up for her second start, the $60,000 Colleen Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on Sunday. The Colleen is the prep for Monmouth's top 2-year-old filly stakes, the $100,000 Sorority on Sept. 3.

"She's a very fast filly," Breen said. "All Bravo needs to do is hang on, but no race is ever easy. I just hope that she runs good. The next step is not a big step for her."

Bravo, Monmouth's leading rider, missed Heckuva Good Time's debut while serving a three-day suspension. Castro was aboard for the win.

Heckuva Good Time is a homebred for the Golden Dome Stable, longtime owners in the sport who have been with Breen for two years.

Spruce Run, a longtime turf runner at Monmouth for trainer Linda Rice, is one of the stable's best-known horses.

The stable also had Heckuva Rush, Heckuva Good Time's half-sister, who won her debut here last September by 10 1/2 lengths. She was sold privately after the race to J. Paul Reddam and Jaimie Royce and is in California with trainer Doug O'Neil.

Both Heckuva Good Time and Heckuva Rush are out of Heckuva Time.

"I hope that mare keeps throwing runners," Breen said.

The Colleen drew five runners with She's Roughin It the most experienced. She has one win in four starts and most recently ran third in the Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park.

Like Heckuva Good Time, the other three fillies - Bovell Road, Higgie, and Five Star Magic - are making their second start after winning their debut.

Point Determined out of Haskell

Trainer Bob Baffert told Monmouth race secretary Mike Dempsey on Friday that Point Determined will not be coming for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 6.

That reduces the likely starters to Bluegrass Cat, Awfully Smart, Deputy Glitters, Electrify, Praying for Cash, and Strong Contender.

Seaside Retreat and Flashy Bull are possibilities.

* Monmouth's new 5 1/2-furlong turf chute debuted in the fourth race. Big City Danse, trained by Breen, won in 1:02.75 over the good course with Lezcano aboard.