12/05/2001 12:00AM

From Panama, with talent: Lorenzo Lezcano

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JAMAICA, N.Y. - 'Tis the season for apprentice riders to excel in New York. Lorenzo Lezcano already has a jump on the competition.

Coming off a wildly successful main track meet at Aqueduct - and with leading apprentice Julian Pimentel a week away from reaching journeyman status - Lezcano is in position to be the leading apprentice rider this winter at the Big A. The inner track meet runs through mid-March.

Since coming to the U.S. from Panama in the summer, Lezcano has ridden 29 winners from 254 mounts and has steadily improved with each meet. After winning two races at Saratoga, Lezcano won six at Belmont and 16 at Aqueduct, including five for trainer Nick Zito. Lezcano's 16 wins over the main track ranked him fourth in the standings for the 25-day stand. His 89 mounts were the fewest among the top eight finishers.

Lezcano, who as an apprentice gets a five-pound weight allowance from veteran riders, got his inner track meet off to a good start by booting home two winners, Alex's Love ($5.10) in Wednesday's third and Ora ($15.80) in the nightcap. It was the sixth multiple-win day for Lezcano in the last month.

"He's very astute for a bug rider," said trainer Pat Reynolds, for whom Lezcano has ridden three winners. "He's got very good hands. He's kind of a throwback to the riders that used to let a horse run away from [the gate]. Everybody now wants to look around. This kid has a nice way of keeping a horse going.

"I think very highly of him," Reynolds added. "If he takes to the inner track, if he knows how to sit the inside-outside trip, he'll win a zillion races over here."

"I think he's going to be a very usable kid this winter," said Mike Hernandez, trainer of Ora and of the first horsemen to use Lezcano in the states. "He gets along with horses - including tough horses - and I think he has improved a lot."

As it now stands, Lezcano, who turns 20 on Dec. 31, has his apprenticeship until Jan. 18. However, he is waiting for approval on 60 days worth of extensions - which he is expected to receive - that will enable him to maintain his apprentice status through the end of the inner track meet.

Although Lezcano had an interest in riding, it was his grandfather who pushed him into becoming a rider. Lezcano attended the same Panamanian jockey school that produced Laffit Pincay Jr. and Alex Solis.

After attending school for two years, Lezcano began his riding career earlier this year in Panama where he won 50 races before being injured in May.

"I always dreamed of coming to the U.S.," Lezcano said through an interpreter.

Jose "Chocolate" Rivera went to Panama in the spring to scout potential new riders to bring to the U.S. Lezcano was one of two he liked. The other, Elvis Trujillo, recently won his U.S. debut at Hollywood Park.

Rather than wait until fall, Rivera thought it would be better to bring Lezcano to New York during the Saratoga meet. While Rivera knew Lezcano would struggle early, he thought it would be an excellent learning experience to ride against the likes of Jerry Bailey, John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, and Pat Day.

"The work we did in Saratoga is paying off, riding against the best riders," Rivera said. "The kid picked it up fast and we won a couple of races at Saratoga. He's a very hard-working kid with a good attitude."

Hernandez said what has helped accelerate Lezcano's learning process are the friendships he's struck with Bailey and Velazquez.

"He told Bailey, I want to be like you and Bailey's told him how to do things," Hernandez said. "It was nice of Bailey to do that."

Lezcano's success in the states has prompted some Panamanian trainers to call him and asked if he would return to his native land. Lezcano has declined. He hasn't even been home to see his six siblings, parents or grandparents.

"I'm concentrating on doing good now," Lezcano said. "After the winter meet maybe I'll go home to Panama to visit. But I want to establish myself here before I do that."