01/07/2006 12:00AM

Lezcano's suspension may help rivals catch up


OLDSMAR, Fla. - The Jose Lezcano freight train got temporarily sidetracked Friday when the jockey who had threatened to run away and hide in the race for leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs was hit with a five-day suspension for careless riding.

Lezcano had 21 winners coming into Saturday's program, which gave him a 13-race lead over Juan Umana; four other riders were sitting in third place with seven wins. But Lezcano will be sidelined from Monday through Friday, sitting out a suspension handed down this past Friday for his ride aboard Seabury in Thursday's fourth race. Seabury was battling for the lead in midstretch of a six-furlong sprint and came out under Lezcano's left-handed pressure to drift in front of Yea Verily and Emmanuel Cosme, causing that one to clip heels and forcing Cosme to check. Seabury was disqualified from second to fourth.

After a hearing on Friday, Lezcano was handed a five-day suspension. The rider and his advisers decided against an appeal, and notified stewards Saturday that he would serve his days.

The suspension should allow the competition to gain some ground in the riding race. Umana, off to a solid start, is riding in good form. Joe Rocco, who seems to be reinvigorated in the warm Florida sun, was voted jockey of the month by Holiday Inn Express, which sponsors the monthly award. Oliver Castillo, who came back from a short retirement late in the Delaware meeting, is also riding well, while Daniel Centeno, who won 113 races at Finger Lakes this summer, is one of the more energetic riders of recent years. Jordan Charkoudian, a young apprentice who began her career here last season, rounds out the foursome with seven winners.

One of the most frustrated riders in the room has to be T.D. Houghton, who has six winners at the meeting but has finished second 18 times.

Another jockey who figures to garner a lot of business is Jesus Castanon, last year's leading rider. Castanon, who won the riding title at Ellis Park as well as the recently completed Holiday meeting at Turfway, won with the first mount he accepted on Jan. 1. While plans call for him to leave early to return to the Kentucky circuit, there is no doubt he will make an impact while he's here.

Quick surface on New Year's cards

Track-bias devotees need to circle Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 on their calendars. The track surface those two days was blazing fast, and most of the winners were either horses who raced on the lead from start to finish or were just off the pace.

Three races on Saturday were run in 1:10 and change, and any time a horse cracks the 1:11 mark in sprints here, it's noteworthy. There were several 1:10-and-change interior fraction clockings set on Sunday in seven-furlong sprints.