05/16/2006 11:00PM

A refreshed Rivera returns on Keep Cool in Big Bubble

Jim Lisa
Keep Cool, with Jose Rivera II riding, took last year's Mecke Handicap.

MIAMI - Jose Rivera II decided this winter that after riding for nearly 30 years, the last 13 without a break, it was time to take a vacation. But on Saturday, Rivera's vacation will end when he reunites with one of his favorite horses, Keep Cool, in Calder's $45,000 Big Bubble Stakes, scheduled to be run at 1 1/8 miles on the grass.

The Puerto Rico-born Rivera, 45, has won more than 1,700 races and nearly $22 million in purses during a career that began in New England during the mid-1970's. In 1997 he was chosen as the 100th best jockey in the country in an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated. But he rode only eight horses during the 2006 Gulfstream Park meeting, and Keep Cool will be his first mount since the Calder meet began nearly a month ago.

"I hadn't taken a vacation in 13 years and finally decided this winter it was time to get away for a while," said Rivera. "I rent and sell houses, and I've also got a few acres of my own in Ocala, where I've spent a lot of time. But I've been working horses. I breezed seven in Ocala for Todd Pletcher the other day, and my weight is holding at 110 pounds."

Rivera said Carl Anderson, who trains Keep Cool for the Skys The Limit Racing Inc., called him recently and asked if he would come back to ride the 6-year-old gelding in the Big Bubble.

"Carl and his wife have both been friends of mine for a while, and he's been one of the few trainers who has stayed loyal to me over the years," said Rivera. "A lot of the others tend to forget what you did for them in the past. And to be honest, I've been getting a little bored being away from the racetrack. I started riding when I was 14, and it's in my blood."

Rivera first hooked up with Keep Cool during the fall of 2004. He has won five races on Keep Cool, including the Flying Pidgeon Handicap, later that year and the Mecke Handicap the following summer. They were also beaten a neck by Dancing Master in defense of their title in the 2005 Flying Pidgeon.

Keep Cool has tailed off a bit of late, having gone winless in seven starts since registering a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 101 with Rivera aboard en route to a three-length win in the Absent Russian Stakes on Aug. 20. Keep Cool has started once during the current session, leading into the stretch before finishing a tiring seventh in the Grade 3 Miami Mile Breeders' Cup Handicap.

"I told Carl last winter I was quitting and to ride somebody else on the horse," Rivera said Wednesday. "I also advised him to give the horse a little break, which he did after his first start at Gulfstream back in January. I got on him this morning, and he's doing well. I think he'll probably run Saturday even if the race comes off the grass. He can run on dirt, but he's only effective up to seven furlongs because the turns bother him. He gets to sliding too much on the dirt, something he doesn't do on the turf."

Prichard racks up first two wins

Brian Prichard won the first race of his training career when Folk Festival captured Tuesday's seventh event. A 42-year-old resident of West Palm Beach, Prichard then wasted little time getting his second victory when How's Your Halo splashed home an easy winner in the next race on the card.

Prichard took out his trainer's license two years ago following careers playing polo and riding hunter-jumpers. He currently has six horses stabled locally, including Expeditious, who will be among the favorites in Saturday's $45,000 Maryland My Maryland Stakes.

"I began playing polo 25 years ago," Prichard said. "I played against trainers like Jonathan Sheppard and Allen Jerkens back in the day. But I got so crippled up from playing polo I decided it was time to do something else. So I went into hunter-jumpers before making the transition to racing."

Prichard has bought or claimed the six horses he has on the grounds, purchasing both Folk Festival and Expeditious from Darley Stable and claiming How's Your Halo for $40,000 this winter at Gulfstream.

"I was going to scratch How's Your Halo when the race came off the grass but decided to leave him in when the field scratched down to only five starters," Prichard explained Tuesday. "He got choked down and displaced his palate in his last start [the Unbridled Stakes]. I knew he was a better horse than that. I think this was a really big effort from him today, especially since he is a 3-year-old running against all older horses."

Juan Leyva was aboard both winners for Prichard on Tuesday.

* Expeditious worked a half-mile from the gate around the dogs in 50 seconds on Wednesday in preparation for the 1 3/16-mile Maryland My Maryland. Sir Ray will go off as the favorite in defense of his title in the race for older horses, which mirrors Saturday's Preakness Stakes in length.

* Jockey Abel Castellano Jr. won three races on Monday and two more Tuesday to move into second place in the standings behind leading rider Manny Cruz. Apprentice Jeffrey Sanchez is third.

* Trainers Tim Ritvo and Eddie Plesa Jr., who finished one victory apart in that order during the 2005 Calder meet, find themselves in a similar position after the opening 16 days of the current session, with Ritvo holding an 8-7 edge on Plesa atop the standings through Tuesday's card.