07/09/2005 12:00AM

Peruvian jockeys gather for a good cause


The South American nation of Peru has become fertile territory for world-class jockeys. River Downs, the Cincinnati track that's into trying different things, will hold a special program Monday that honors that Peruvian pipeline.

Horses in two races at River, the eighth and 10th, will be ridden exclusively by jockeys from Peru. The special event will benefit the Jockey School of Peru, where many spectacularly successful riders, including Edgar Prado, Jorge Chavez, Jose Valdivia Jr., and Rafael Bejarano, learned the ropes before immigrating to the United States.

Bejarano, whose first U.S. win came at River on July 10, 2002, will be honored in a ceremony between races to acknowledge his numerous riding feats since leaving Ohio to ride primarily in Kentucky and New York. Last year, Bejarano was the leading jockey in North America with 455 wins.

The special afternoon was brought to fruition in large part by Dante Zanelli Jr., a trainer based in Lexington, Ky. Zanelli and his father, trainer Dante Zanelli Sr., were instrumental in bringing Bejarano and other Peruvian jockeys to the States.

"In addition to honoring Rafael, we hope to raise money for the program and bring attention to the other accomplished graduates now riding here," said the younger Zanelli. "The school is in need of money. All these riders have come up under the guidance of Teo Baldo, a great horseman and teacher."

Jockeys will donate half of their earnings in the two races to the jockey school, and the other half will go to defray expenses for the event. River also is holding a benefit silent auction and an autograph session during which fans will be asked to make a donation to the school in exchange for the jockeys' signatures.

In addition to Prado, Chavez, Bejarano, and Valdivia, other participating riders are John Jacinto, Edgar Paucar, Juan Enriquez, Huber Villa-Gomez, Marco Ccamaque, Godofredo Laurente, David Cora, Carlos Nieto, Miguel Mena, and Pablo Tolentino.

The eighth race, a $9,000 starter allowance at 1 1/4 miles, drew a full field of 12. The 10th, a $9,700 allowance at a mile on turf, has eight scheduled starters.

Seven River races will be interspersed with seven more from sister track Thistledown. First post for the combined 14-race program is 1:20 p.m. Eastern. The all-Peruvian events are scheduled for 3:42 and 4:24 p.m.

Peru borders five other South American nations and is situated on the continent's western coast on the Pacific Ocean. Fifty-four percent of its 28 million people live below the poverty line, and in fact, many of the Peruvian jockeys now riding in the U.S. grew up under impoverished conditions.