11/20/2007 12:00AM

Pizarro latest apprentice to break out

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine has been fertile ground for apprentice riders in recent years.

The main case in point is Emma-Jayne Wilson, who gained national recognition with an Eclipse Award for her 2005 campaign. Wilson, who was both the Sovereign Award-winning apprentice and the leading rider at the Woodbine meetings in 2005 and 2006, had been challenged by other apprentices such as Corey Fraser and Justin Stein, who also was an Eclipse Award nominee for 2005.

This year, however, there's a clear-cut leader in the apprentice ranks as Tyler Pizarro, through Sunday, was second in wins with 123 and fourth in money won with $5 million heading into the final three weeks of the Woodbine meeting.

Pizarro, who enjoyed a career-best day here last Saturday with five winners, trailed only Patrick Husbands, with 131 winners.

The 21-year-old Pizarro also won 17 races at the Fort Erie meeting. Only the Alberta-based jockeys Rickey Walcott, with 146, and Quincy Welch, with 142, have won more races in Canada in 2007, and both are through for the season.

Pizarro's accomplishments not only have put him on the fast track to a Sovereign Award but should also gain him consideration in the Eclipse Award voting.

Through Nov. 18, Pizarro's 140 wins ranked him fourth among apprentices in North America, and his $5.14 million in purses was good for second place.

Joe Talamo, now based in California, rode 174 winners and collected almost $6.5 million before his apprentice allowance expired on July 21.

"I've been going for the Sovereign since midway through the season," Pizarro said. "And I thought if I ended up leading rider, it would be a bonus.

"But just the honor of going to the Eclipse Awards would be superb."

Pizarro to date has yet to win a stakes, as he has gone 0 for 35 in added-money events while finishing second or third seven times.

Pizarro sees the situation in a positive light.

"Not too many bugs get to ride in as many stakes as I have," he said. "I've ridden a lot of nice horses."

And Pizarro will get another crack at his first stakes score when he pilots Skipped Bail, who is based here at Woodbine with trainer Eric Coatrieux, in the Grade 3, $200,000 River City at Churchill Downs on Friday.

The River City would be the first mount outside Ontario for Pizarro, who was born into the racing game.

His father, Jorge Pizarro, rode for 18 years and won 651 races before retiring in 1998. He still gallops horses at Fort Erie and moves to Woodbine when that meeting ends.

His mother, Donna Pizarro, is a trainer here and is the daughter of trainer John Calhoun, who is still active here at Woodbine at age 86.

And his sister, Kerri Beauclaire, is a longtime racetracker who has been working as his agent since late last fall.

"As early as I can remember, racing was all I knew," Pizarro said. "I was watching my dad, and I was riding the couch."

Pizarro, who grew up with his mother after his parents separated, tried other sports during his school days but never deviated from his goal of becoming a jockey.

"I was always the smallest in the class," Pizarro said. "But I played soccer and hockey - got my muscles built up."

Pizarro also started getting on horses at Calhoun's farm at age 10.

"I got serious when I was 16," he said. "I started galloping at Fort Erie, where I'd go every summer and live with my father."

Pizarro went on to work with trainers Kevin Attard and Lyle Morden at Fort Erie and with Mike Doyle and Sue Leslie at Woodbine.

In the winters, he galloped horses for Mark Casse in Florida and later for Mark Frostad at Fair Grounds.

Then, late last summer, Pizarro decided it was time to take the plunge.

Pizarro found the winner's circle with his third mount, Dancer's Flyer, who was owned and trained by Calhoun.

And although he won his fourth race here on Sept. 22, 2006, Pizarro did not follow the practice of most Canadian apprentice riders who cut their seasons short prior to their fifth wins in order to preserve their weight allowances for the following spring.

"I'm always fighting my weight, so I thought it would be best to just keep going," said Pizarro, who generally rides at 115 or 116 pounds.

Pizarro wound up winning 28 races in 2006, with 23 of those wins coming at Woodbine even though he missed the last eight days due to a bout of bronchitis.

Then, after spending much of the winter galloping horses for trainer Bobby Frankel in Florida, Pizarro returned to Woodbine at the end of March and began picking up where he left off.

"You anticipate doing well, and let the cards play out," said Pizarro, who has been the leading rider or among the leaders throughout the season. "I have a lot of confidence in myself. But it all still surprised me a bit. To be ahead of some of the top riders here has been a pleasure in itself."

Pizarro credits many of those same riders - such as Husbands, Wilson, and Emile Ramsammy - with helping him improve his skills.

"They've been very supportive, helping me out and telling me the do's and don'ts," Pizarro said.

"He's got good hands," said Sid Attard, who has given Pizarro a leg up on 14 winners at the meeting. "He uses his head; they run for him. He doesn't rush them."

David Bell, who has sent out five winners with Pizarro in the saddle, echoes Attard's sentiments.

"I think he's got a pretty good head on his shoulders," Bell said.

Pizarro was granted a four-month extension for the time he didn't ride last winter, and will have his five-pound apprentice allowance until Jan. 27, but, as of now, he does not intend to continue after the Woodbine meeting winds up on Dec. 9.

"I'm going to Palm Meadows," Pizarro said. "I'm going to gallop horses and enjoy myself. It's been a long year. My body needs a break."