09/29/2004 12:00AM

New jock Cosme makes a splash


CHICAGO - Peruse the early Hawthorne Race Course rider standings and you'll find near the top an unfamiliar name, Emanuel Cosme, who won five races from 18 mounts during the three-day opening week. His total is one fewer than Chris Emigh's, and places Cosme second in the standings, a rank that startles even the rider.

"Yes, I'm surprised by it," Cosme said late Wednesday morning from the Hawthorne jockeys' room. "Some people have really been helping me out."

Racing fans are forgiven if they lack details of the Cosme story. After all, he has been around such a short time. At 27, Cosme has a career that encompasses just one year and one month. He is scheduled to lose his apprentice allowance in mid-October, but got on his first horse of any sort just a couple years ago.

A native Puerto Rican, Cosme was working for a carpet company somewhere in the vast urban expanse of New York City when a friend suggested he switch tracks and take a job at Belmont Park. Cosme agreed, and spent two years as a hotwalker, then four years as a groom for trainer Joe Orseno.

This is not the fast track for a budding jockey, especially for a young man already in his early 20's, but it was not until he had gotten started with Thoroughbreds that Cosme even consider riding. After spending several years working alongside horses, he decided to try his luck atop them, and went to Florida, then on to Ohio with a mentor and friend named Eduardo Cross.

"He taught me everything about riding," said Cosme. "I still talk to him every day. He tells me whatever I've done wrong in a race."

Galloping horses at Calder early in the summer of 2003, Cosme had developed a seat and a feel for a horse, but he weighed 127 pounds and wondered if he'd get light enough to race ride. Four months later, he stepped on a scale that read 107.

Cosme, who easily makes 111 pounds now, said: "I called someone over and said, 'The scale must be broken.' They said, 'No, that's how much you weigh.'"

Randy Romero II, just 23, is handling Cosme's business. Both said they plan to stay in Chicago through the end of the Hawthorne meet. It will be getting cold and dark soon, but this surely beats the world of carpet, or leading horses around a Belmont barn for most of the morning.

"I'd say I'm pretty happy," said Cosme.

Perfect Drift gets Gold Cup setup

There was little change on the Hawthorne Gold Cup front as of Wednesday, though it now appears that the Kentucky-based Alumni Hall is unlikely to come for the race. Powerful Touch will ship from Belmont if trainer Bobby Frankel can set things up, and trainer Barclay Tagg has not altogether ruled out a trip from New York for Funny Cide, but that horse seems much more likely to stay at Belmont for Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup.

What it all means is that Perfect Drift, a close second last out in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, will be in an excellent position to score his overdue first win of the season. It appeared unlikely as of Wednesday that he would have more than four or five opponents in the Grade 2, $750,000 Gold Cup.

"I really don't know what's going to happen with the race," said Hawthorne racing secretary Gary Duch. "I guess we're going to have to wait and see who shows up in the entries.

Powerful Touch probably will be on a Kentucky-bound flight from New York early Thursday morning if Frankel can find the right rider for him. After the flight, Powerful Touch would have to van on to Chicago, but that trip is only about seven hours.

"I've been leaving messages, trying to get a rider," Frankel said. "This horse is pretty good right now."

Quest Star and Sonic West, both based in Kentucky, are considered likely starters. A few more horses, all regionally based, remain possible for the race.

Color by d'Or tempting play

As good as Color by d'Or was going at Arlington, how good is he going to be at Hawthorne on the turf course he likes best? With six wins from eight starts on the local turf, Color by d'Or has reached the level of a course specialist, and as the potential controlling speed in Friday's featured ninth race, he has a chance for his second win of the season.

It will not be easy. The feature, at 1 1/16 miles, is for fourth-level allowance horses or $50,000 claimers. Color by d'Or runs for the claiming price, and faces competition deeper and stronger than the horses he typically beats. But his fondness for the grass course, and the prospect of an easy lead, make him a tempting play Friday if the odds come up fair.

Color by d'Or was third last out behind two horses he faces again, Purplest and Al's Dearly Bred. Both have a decent chance right back, though Al's Dearly Bred has an outside post and gently declining form.