07/23/2002 12:00AM

Riders use fairs to make good impression

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - The northern California fair circuit provides opportunities for new riders to make their marks.

Riders such as Jason Lumpkins parlayed strong early showings on the fair circuit into top 10 status at the major meets.

Adolfo Rodriguez and David Lopez hope to follow Lumpkins's path to northern California riding success. Both have two mounts on Thursday's Sonoma County Fair card.

Rodriguez, 37, began his career in 1982 in his native Colombia, where he was the leading apprentice rider. He moved to Mexico in 1987 and began riding in the United States five years later, primarily at Los Alamitos.

Rodriguez rides Boeagle, the top Arabian on the circuit, but he has also picked up Thoroughbred mounts and finished tied for fifth at the recent Solano County Fair meeting in Vallejo with six wins from 40 mounts. He also had five seconds and 10 thirds.

"I moved here to ride Thoroughbreds, and I want to keep riding at Bay Meadows," he said. "I'm not riding too many good horses, but I'm trying my very best to win."

Although better known for his rides on Arabians, he has begun to reach the winner's circle in Thoroughbred races as well.

"I can use my experience to help the Arabians," he said. "The first time I rode one, I went away from the gate like I was on a Thoroughbred, but you can't do that with them, and you can't hit them too strong."

Rodriguez planned to come to the U.S. in 1987, but he did so well in Mexico, winning over 500 races in five years there, that he delayed his arrival in this country until 1992.

He got a rude introduction when he arrived.

"A horse kicked me the day before I was supposed to ride, and I had to take off three horses, and they all won," he said.

His wife and two sons have moved to northern California with him, not that they get to see him much. He's always at the track.

"All the time, you have to work," he said. "You don't get nothing for free. I keep working hard. Trainers put me up on six or eight horses every morning, and I've been riding for a lot of new people.

"If I could ride Black Ruby, I'd ride mules, too."

Lopez, who turns 21 next month, came to the U.S. in 2001. He has already ridden for six years.

"I came to Miami, and I rode at Delaware and Santa Anita," he said.

Lopez, who was the second leading rider in his native Peru before coming to the U.S., moved his tack to northern California from Arizona this spring during the Bay Meadows meeting where he won 6 races in 57 starts and also had four seconds and 10 thirds. He won 4 of 40 races at Vallejo.

"It's important to have a good horse," said Lopez, who is also one of the busiest riders in the morning.

"Every morning, I work horses. That's why I'm starting to get good business and winning races. You know when you have the best horse, but I don't care if I'm on a longshot, I always try to win."

Lopez has impressed local trainers with his good sense of pace.

"I run all kinds of horses, but I like to come from behind. That's the kind I like," Lopez said.

He hopes trainers like what they've seen thus far.

"This is my life," he said. "I want to stay here."