12/05/2003 1:00AM

Lopez gets his chance to shine


ALBANY, Calif. - It's a familiar story: Star gets hurt; understudy steps in; understudy blossoms.

But don't expect jockey Russell Baze to become an historic footnote in jockey David Lopez's career.

No one, not even Lopez himself, expects that he will supplant Baze atop the Golden Gate Fields rider standings. But with Baze sidelined for four to six weeks with a fractured right collarbone, Lopez and other Northern California riders figure to benefit by picking up more live mounts in Baze's absence.

"I think there will be more chances for everybody now," Lopez said. "This is my chance to shine. I've been waiting for a chance. I'll have more chances than before. Some trainers that never rode me before may give me a chance."

Lopez, 22, started riding at 15 in his native Peru. He was Peru's second-leading rider when he came to the United States in 2001. He rode in Miami, Delaware, Santa Anita, and Arizona before coming to Northern California in the spring of 2002.

The current Golden Gate Fields meeting has been his best. He has 15 victories from 100 mounts and is tied for second in the standings with Chad Schvaneveldt, 13 behind Baze.

Lopez, who has 114 victories this year, had 17 wins from 192 mounts at the Bay Meadows fall meet.

"My business has picked up," said Lopez. "Right now, I've got the door open. I'll really try to continue to work hard and try to become better."

Lopez has picked up better mounts during his time here and has become one of the regulars whom trainer Armando Lage uses.

"I was working hard for that," Lopez said. "I was ready for the chance. He's the second leading trainer and has good horses."

Baze won't need surgery

Baze underwent a manual adjustment of his collarbone Thursday. The alignment precludes the need for surgery and could expedite the healing process.

Ironically, before suffering the injury Sunday, Baze was scheduled to go to the annual Jockey's Guild meeting in Dallas on Monday, along with Golden Gate Fields track physician Dr. David Seftel, to discuss the improvements needed for the protective vests jockeys wear.

"We need some force-deflecting hardware to protect the clavicle, as they have in hockey," Dr. Seftel said.

Pace favors My Ruby Charm

Lopez will ride First Draft, a runner-up in her last start, in Sunday's feature, a 1 1/16-mile first-level allowance race for 12 fillies and mares, many of whom are more accomplished on turf than the main track.

There is plenty of speed in the race, which could set things up for My Ruby Charm, who missed by a neck against similar competition in her last start on a fast track. Radon, who will be part of the pace picture, seems the one most likely to be helped by a wet track with three wet-track victories in the past.