11/08/2001 1:00AM

Pimentel riding fast lane to success


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Julian Pimentel's huge autumn at the Meadowlands should give Eclipse Award voters pause before rubber-stamping favored Jeremy Rose for the top apprentice award.

If they decided the Eclipse based on the toughest commute, these two men would still be the front-runners. Both riders have been pulling double duty riding day and night. While Rose has had the longer of the two commutes, coming to The Meadowlands from Delaware after their races, Pimentel has had to brave grueling New York rush hours to get to New Jersey from Belmont.

"It's easier to win races on the track than to make it on time over there. I just got E-ZPass a couple weeks ago," he said, referring to a computerized toll-collecting device. "Before that, it was almost impossible."

Not having E-ZPass was one of the few rookie mistakes the 20-year-old Pimentel made in New Jersey this year. Heading into the final week of the meet, he has secured the riding title for 2001 and will become just the third apprentice to take the honor; Wesley Ward won in 1984 and Chuck Lopez in 1979.

With 56 wins from 293 mounts he easily outpaced Monmouth Park's leading jockey, Eibar Coa, who was expected to dominate following the midsummer injury to perennial Jersey leader Joe Bravo. Rose has closed into a second place with a 38-243 record.

Still, with 270 wins on the year, the 22-year-old Rose leads all apprentices nationwide. Pimentel, who struggled early in the year at Aqueduct, has 124 wins to rank fourth.

Together, they should produce interesting storylines next year as they cross paths in New York, New Jersey, and Rose's chosen base, Maryland. Pimentel will have to compete without his weight allowance; he loses his bug Dec. 7.

"I know it's going to be tough when I lose my bug," said Pimentel. "I didn't do very well here [at Aqueduct] last year. I only won a couple races, so I know it's going to be tough. But winning at The Meadowlands is going to help. Really, what else can you do? I've just got to keep on working."

Pimentel's hard work was enough to convince a Hall of Fame trainer to give him a chance when he was starting out. He found a spot working in Bill Mott's barn after moving to New York to live with his mother and father four years ago. Before that he worked for his uncles Humberto and Javier Chavez, a trainer and a jockey back in Cali, Columbia. They taught him horsemanship and gave him a chance gallop when he was just 10.

In the U.S., he got that same family feeling working for Mott. It helped build the necessary confidence when he headed out on his own.

"It was a lot like home. I had friends that gave me a chance to work there, and there was always someone to teach me and help me learn. Mott is one of the best, and it was like a family. That really helped me," said Pimentel.

Growing up idolizing fellow South American rider Jose Santos and working in Mott's barn, where Jerry Bailey usually gets first call, has helped as well. Both men have offered advice to Pimentel, who has natural patience and quiet hands.

Pimentel also found a way to overcome injuries early in his career. That combined with the bad luck of fellow apprentice Victor Carrero, who broke his ankle at Belmont last month, will help Pimentel's winter plans. It has also gained center stage in this late-season surge.

"I have broken my arm and I think the same place on my wrist about three times since I started. I know it's tough. I feel bad for Victor. He's a great jockey and he had a lot of wins, but I can't be scared when that happens to other jockeys. I've banged myself a couple times. You just can't stop."

That kind of fearlessness will help as he heads into his career as a journeyman. Just hope you are not in the way when he's trying to get to The Meadowlands on time.