05/22/2003 12:00AM

Newcomer proves adept at finding winner's circle

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Horseplayers are always hoping for an overlay, and if they were paying attention last weekend at Hastings Park, horses ridden by newcomer Cayetano Chaparro gave them just what they wanted.

The juiciest one was Sovereign Won, a first-time starter trained by Mel Snow who was 5-1 on the morning line but paid a generous $36.90 when he won a maiden race Sunday. Part of the reason for the liberal price was that Snow's barn rider, Nicola Wright, was on the 7-5 favorite, Stratoplan, but it also was because local fans aren't yet familiar with Chaparro.

Chaparro, 32, began riding in 1989 and has had a solid career in Mexico. According to Keith Smith, a senior steward at Hastings,"Cayetano has an impressive record with over 500 wins" as a journeyman at Hipodromo de las Americas in Mexico City. He wanted to try riding at other tracks, and when a friend of his, owner-trainer Juan Lara, moved his stable to Vancouver, Chaparro jumped at the opportunity to go with him.

"He rode a lot of races for me in Mexico, and when he heard I was coming up here he asked me if I could help bring him here," said Lara. "I was happy to do it. He's a very good rider and he should do well here."

Chaparro has never ridden on a five-furlong track before but has not found it too difficult to make the adjustment.

"Position seems to be much more important here, but other than that, there's not a big difference," he said. "The big adjustment I've had to make is with the language."

Chaparro's English is far from polished, but he is working at it with help from Jeannie Spoence, a trainer and former high school teacher. He also avails himself of the Hastings Learning Center, located above the backstretch cafeteria. The center, opened this year, is part of an outreach program of Capilano College.

Two of Chaparro's five victories have been for Snow, and the trainer has named him to ride Actxotic in a $25,000 claiming sprint Sunday.

"He's very eager and rides hard," said Snow. "He has a good seat and is a very stylish rider. I wouldn't hesitate to use him."

Silva got here in a hurry

Another rider up from Mexico is 18-year-old apprentice Carlos Silva. He was second in the jockey standings at Hipodromo de las Americas when he left there last week, and in 2002 he won 54 races from 270 mounts. He explained why he came this far north to ride.

"All of the Mexican riders want to try and ride in another country," he said. "I came as soon as I got my papers."

Silva arrived here last Thursday and picked up a couple of mounts last weekend. This week he has a full schedule, riding in 15 of the 20 races carded over Saturday and Sunday.

"'It was nice to ride a couple of horses last week and get a feel for the track," he said. "Now I have to prove myself by working hard and winning races."

Silva and Chaparro both have first-time agent Geoff Mussellam acting on their behalf. Mussellam is also the desktop publishing coordinator for Hastings.

English import also joins fray

Rounding out the new riders at Hastings is a 10-pound apprentice, Mark Lawson, who also is an import. Lawson has shipped in from England, where he began riding with Hastings' leading apprentice, Nicola Wright.

"We both worked for a well-known trainer in England, Henry Candys, but it was hard to get mounts back there," he said. "When Nicky came home last Christmas, she told me about Hastings, so I thought I would give it a go. She's the main reason I'm here."

Lawson, 21, rode five races in England last year and has had to make an enormous adjustment from riding on expansive turf courses to the smallish Hastings oval.

"It's a lot different, and I'm getting used to it," he said. "I've done a couple of odd things wrong, but I'm learning that way and so far it's been pretty good."

Lawson has an excellent support system in place at Hastings, getting plenty of advice from Harold and Frank Barroby. Harold is the all-time leading trainer at Hastings, and Frank is also a successful trainer and former jockey. Trapper Barroby, Harold's son, is Lawson's agent.

* An abundance of of full fields at the meet has encouraged Hastings management to double the superfecta wagering opportunities from two races a day to four.