06/05/2003 12:00AM

Madrigal answers opportunity's knock


It may pale in comparison to Lou Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp in the New York Yankees' lineup some 80 years ago, but multiple injuries sustained by jockey Clinton Potts in a training accident have opened up a golden window of opportunity for Rodrigo Madrigal Jr.

Potts had been the first-call rider for trainer Tim Ritchey's powerful stable at Delaware Park until May 24, when a horse he had just mounted in a stall for a workout bucked and lost his balance. By the time Potts could be rescued, he had broken his collarbone in two places, punctured a lung, and broken several ribs. It is estimated Potts will be sidelined for at least six more weeks.

As a result, Madrigal, 31, who had been riding second-call for Ritchey, moved up in the pecking order. In his first season riding full-time at Delaware after previously calling Philadelphia Park home, Madrigal has capitalized on his chance to ride many live mounts.

At the time of Potts's injuries, Madrigal ranked sixth in the meet standings. Since then, Madrigal has moved up to second by collecting 14 wins, 4 seconds, and 6 thirds from his last 53 mounts.

Last Sunday, Madrigal enjoyed the best day of his career when he rode five winners - three for John Zimmerman and the other for Ritchey. His fourth winner, aboard Sly Grin in an allowance race, was also the 1,500th of his career.

"Milestones are always hard to achieve and you always look forward to them," Madrigal said. "The fact that I did it at Delaware Park with five winners is really phenomenal and hard to believe. I didn't want to go to sleep that night because I didn't want that day to end."

Although Madrigal is thankful to ride first-call for Ritchey, he is more concerned about Potts.

"My heart really goes out to Clinton," Madrigal said. "I know what it's like. I have been injured a lot of times. I'm really hoping for a fast recovery for him."

Madrigal, who began riding at 16 at Thistledown near his native Cleveland, had been riding full-time at Philadelphia Park since 1997, but this spring decided it was time for a change.

"At Philadelphia, I kind of felt like I was stagnant," he said. "I had gotten into a routine and I needed a change, especially mentally. I felt like I reached a point in my career where I had to set new goals and to present myself with fresh challenges. From day one, things have worked out very well. I am extremely glad I made this choice."

Windsor Castle heads Brandywine

Windsor Castle, recent winner of the Grade 3 William D. Schaefer Handicap at Pimlico, heads a group of seven older horses in Saturday's $100,000 Brandywine Handicap at one mile.

The 5-year-old Windsor Castle, trained by Frank Alexander, drew off to a 1 3/4-length victory in the Schaefer on the Preakness undercard, earning a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. Jose Santos rode Windsor Castle that day, but since he will be going for the Triple Crown with Funny Cide in New York, Alexander has lined up Aaron Gryder.

Based on his last race, Private Lap looks like Windsor Castle's chief rival. Private Lap soared to a career-high 110 Beyer when he cruised to a wire-to-wire 5 1/2-length win in the Quick Card Stakes at Delaware on May 10.

PArivate Lap's good form was verified when Classic Endeavor, the distant runner-up in the Quick Card, came back to win the Frisk Me Now Stakes at Monmouth. Classic Endeavor is back to take another crack at Private Lap.