09/22/2003 11:00PM

Razo's big year may get bigger


CHICAGO - Eusebio Razo Jr. has had the best Arlington meet of his career this season. But to put an exclamation point after it, he has to leave.

Instead of riding closing day at Arlington, Razo will spend Saturday at Belmont, where he rides Ajedrez in the Grade 1, $500,000 Vosburgh Handicap.

Grade 1 mounts rarely have come around for the 37-year-old Razo. The last one he recalls was in 1989, when Black Tie Affair finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Everything has been different this summer. A longtime fixture on the Chicago circuit, Razo won 39 races here last season and failed to finish among the top 10 riders. Through Sunday, he had won 88 races this year - 40 fewer than Rene Douglas, but 22 more than Curt Bourque, who held third in the standings.

"He's always been a good rider," said trainer Wayne Catalano, who elected to keep Razo on Ajedrez in the Vosburgh rather than seek a big-name New York rider. "This kid can ride. He's just getting more opportunities now. And he's getting the opportunities he deserves."

In an arena of brash personalities, Razo is quiet and naturally shy, by all accounts a first-class human being. Reached Tuesday at Fairmount Park, where he had traveled to ride in four stakes races, Razo's take on his Belmont trip was refreshingly outward-looking.

"I'm just anxious to see how good this horse can be," Razo said. "He's shown so much talent. I'm anxious to see how he can do with the better horses. At first, when they said they were taking him to New York, I thought I wouldn't have a chance to ride him. I'm thankful for getting the chance."

Razo praised his agent, Lindy McDaniel, crediting him for the successful summer.

"My agent, it seems like he's always kept us on the right horses," Razo said. "He's been doing a great job keeping clients happy. I've been doing the same things I've always done, but this year I've been riding with more confidence. I don't worry about things now, and when you think like that, it makes things easier."

Zosima to be tested in Lassie

Zosima had her final work for Saturday's $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie, breezing a half-mile in 48.60 seconds on Tuesday. Her preparation for the Lassie has gone exactly as planned - all that remains to be seen is whether she is good enough.

Zosima won her career debut July 4 at Arlington by more than four lengths, finished second to Sweet Jo Jo in the $50,000 Silver Maiden Stakes on July 27, and won a first-level allowance race. That was back on Aug. 17, and Zosima has spent the last five weeks growing up.

"We were letting her mature as she went along," said Dave Duggan, the Arlington assistant to trainer Eoin Harty. "She's matured mentally and physically, and we think she'll stay the trip. Whether she's a Grade 1 or even a Grade 3 horse, we don't know."

Zosima is one of seven 2-year-old fillies expected for the one-mile Lassie as of early this week. The lightly raced Everyday Angel, an impressive Saratoga maiden winner trained by Pat Byrne, will be favored.

"Pat Byrne knows what a good horse is, and I respect him," Duggan said. "It'll take a decent filly to beat [Zosima] right now."

Wiggins going in Indiana Derby

Wiggins is headed to the $400,000 Indiana Derby on Oct. 4 at Hoosier Park, said his trainer, Tony Granitz.

The race will be a step up in class, but Wiggins, an Illinois-bred, is ready for it. Wiggins has won four straight races, including the Round Table at Arlington and, most recently, the Sept. 13 Prairie Meadows Derby.

"He lost a shoe on the first turn, and he slid around on the track a little, but [jockey] Eddie Razo said he still won handily," Granitz said.

Wiggins worked a half-mile in 49.80 seconds Tuesday at Arlington, and Granitz said the colt continues to improve. "He worked good, and he's on top of his game," Granitz said. "He's getting better and better."

So is False Promises, a Granitz-trained 3-year-old grass horse who earned a spot in the Oct. 18 Hawthorne Derby with an amazing race Saturday at Arlington. Running in a second-level allowance race, False Promises was last of 11 horses a half-mile from the finish, but he looped the field in the last three furlongs and won by a length despite racing about seven paths wide coming into the stretch.

"We took the blinkers off him and he started to relax," Granitz said. "The horse is just coming into himself."