10/25/2001 11:00PM

Patzer returns to riding and finds enjoyment as well as success

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Heading into the final week of racing at Hastings Park, David Wilson holds a three-win advantage over Mark Patzer in the jockey standings.

While it's no surprise that Wilson, who was last year's leading rider, is sitting atop the standings, it would have been hard to predict that Patzer, who hadn't ridden for close to 10 years, would be in contention for the title. Patzer was at the top of his career when he abruptly quit partway through the 1992 racing season. He had set a record for wins (173) by a jockey in 1991, but he was tired of battling his weight and he called it a career.

Patzer spent some of his time away from the races studying nutrition and found a way to keep his weight down and his attitude up at the same time. When he contemplated his comeback he said that he would ride only as long as he was enjoying it.

He gave evidence of his positive attitude by being at the track on this wet Friday morning to get on a horse for trainer Jim Brown. "I'm feeling pretty good about everything," said Patzer. "It's actually the first year that I'll be sorry to see the meet come to a close. I wouldn't mind riding year-round."

Patzer wasn't surprised by his success. He came back to the track with a lot of confidence, and after getting his legs under him he has looked as good as ever. "I felt pretty good right away," he said. "You never really know how it's going to work out, but I felt that I hadn't lost any skills and was pretty hopeful that I would have a good year."

Patzer's big horse this year was I'm Free. He was aboard for all five of his stakes wins and rode him to a second-place finish behind Fancy As in the B.C. Derby.

"Mark had a lot to do with his success," said Henry Miller Jr., I'm Free's trainer. "He really helped I'm Free learn how to relax when it looked like he might just be a speed ball. And he also made some very smart decisions that another rider might not have made during some of his races."

"His natural ability combined with his intelligence makes him tough to beat," said Brown. "I was glad to see him come back and am happy to use him whenever I can. He's riding two of my horses Sunday" - Count Katahaula in the first and Java Jasmine in the third - "and they both should run big races with him aboard."

Trainer Roy Rawson dead

Trainer Roy Rawson, 53, died Tuesday morning after he was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.

Rawson grew up near Hastings Park and, along with his brother Wilf, gravitated to the track and walked hots as a teenager. He tried his hand at riding in the early 1970's but became too heavy. He groomed and galloped horses until he took out his trainer's license in 1979. He also spent some time galloping horses for Eddie Truman in Southern California. Rawson has been among the leading trainers at Hastings Park since the mid-1980's and has a lifetime record of 429 wins from 3,369 starters. He won many stakes races, including the Jack Diamond Futurity with Big Gentry in 1993. He is survived by his children, Jodie, Ryan, and Megan.