03/31/2010 11:00PM

Moreno looks to build on '09 honors

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - As March turned to April last spring, apprentice rider Omar Moreno was headed for Edmonton's Northlands Park, where he would gallop horses in preparation for his 2009 campaign.

Now, heading into the opening days of the 2010 Woodbine meeting, Moreno has been gearing up here for a defense of his title as Canada's outstanding apprentice and a meeting that many believe could put him among the top local riders.

"People are expecting a lot from me," said Moreno, a 25-year-old native of El Salvador who came to Alberta as a refugee claimant in 1991. "And I expect more from myself."

Moreno had developed competitive skills as a boxer before attending a jockey school in Alberta and beginning his career with a win aboard his first mount at Grande Prairie in summer 2008.

Last spring, Moreno migrated to Lethbridge, another track on the Alberta "B" circuit, riding 12 winners there while honing his craft before trying the province's best at Northlands.

After earning his spurs at Northlands with a decent but certainly not spectacular meeting at which he rode 19 winners from 273 mounts, Moreno decided to come east and take a shot.

"I just wanted to give it a try," Moreno said. "Everybody told me how hard it would be here to establish myself.

"I wanted to show I could do something, and if it didn't work out Northlands was always there. But in my mind, I believed that if I was given a chance, I could do anything."

After being politely rebuffed by more than one local agent, Moreno hooked up with Jack "Jocko" Lauzon, a talented former rider who had hung up his tack just a couple of years ago.

Lauzon got his new bug on a few live mounts early, and the winners started coming, totaling 22 here before the meeting ended and leading to Moreno's runaway Sovereign Award victory.

"Everybody gave me a chance," Moreno said. "Jocko was very helpful in every way and things went very well."

Moreno has taken nothing for granted, heading down to Palm Meadows to gallop horses this past January following a visit with family in Alberta, and then returning to Florida after a quick visit to Toronto to collect his Sovereign Award on Jan. 29.

"Jocko was with me down there; he was getting on horses and everything," Moreno said. "We were pretty busy. I was freelancing, mostly for Canadian trainers. I wanted to let people see me out there."

Moreno also has been busy since returning to Woodbine three weeks ago, and his hope that the trend would continue in the afternoons were boosted when he was named on six mounts Friday and five on a light Saturday card.

"Now, it feels that as good as things went here last year I've just got to fill up those shoes," said Moreno, who will maintain his apprentice allowance through Nov. 24. "I've got to try to keep going forward."

Apprentice Pacheco riding at home

Ryan Pacheco, a 26-year-old apprentice jockey who was born in Toronto, is no stranger to Woodbine, but will be looking to emerge in a new light here this spring.

Pacheco had never been within hailing distance of a racehorse when he discovered the joys of betting at the age of 18.

He graduated from Chris McCarron's North American Riding Academy in Lexington, Ky., last year. Before that, Pacheco worked here as a hotwalker, groom, and exercise rider.

"It was [trainer] Ron Sadler who started me up," Pacheco said. "It took me a while to get accustomed to horses. Now, I can't imagine life without them."

Pacheco began his career while still enrolled in the Riding Academy, scoring his first winner at Hoosier Park with his eighth career mount on Aug. 5 and coming right back with his second score at Mountaineer Park two days later.

His travels also brought him to Woodbine last year as he rode one horse for Kentucky-based trainer Tevis McCauley. He then recorded a third win at Ellis Park before cutting his season short at the end of August.

"I was going to come back to Woodbine for the end of the year, but I decided to finish school and stayed in Kentucky another couple of months," said Pacheco, who checked in here at the beginning of March after exercising horses for trainer Reade Baker at Palm Meadows this winter.

Hooking up here with agent Tony Esposito, Pacheco has been galloping horses for a variety of trainers.

"This was always my plan, to ride here," Pacheco said. "I just want to win, get on some nice horses, get my name out there, get noticed. I want people to say, 'This kid can ride - let's give him a shot.' "

Mack buys share of Captain Canuck

Owner Earle Mack, who owned 1993 Queen's Plate winner Peteski and was a co-owner of second-place finisher Cryptocloser in 1997, has purchased an 80 percent interest in Canadian-bred 3-year-old Captain Canuck.

Bought for $190,000 at Ocala's February sale in 2009, Captain Canuck debuted for his Ontario owners Centennial Farm (Niagara) Inc. at Gulfstream on March 6 and was a fast-closing second in a 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Captain Canuck, a gelding by Pulpit, is one of 100 horses nominated to the $1 million Queen's Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds that will be run here July 4.

Roberts booking mounts for Clark

Steve Roberts, who has trained a small string here through the past three seasons, has switched hats this year and is now booking mounts for jockey David Clark.

Roberts had saddled five winners in each of his first two campaigns but found the winner's circle just twice last season.

"David and I are good friends," Roberts said. "He thought he needed a change, I needed a change, and we came together."

Clark had been represented by agent Ken Zweig for the past 13 seasons. Zweig will continue to book mounts for Gerry Olguin.

* Handicapper/author Jim Mazur will be hosting a seminar at 11 a.m. Saturday on the third floor of the grandstand. Attendees will receive a free copy of "Winning at Woodbine 2010," a statistical volume compiled by Mazur and Woodbine handicapper/television host Jim Bannon.