11/02/2001 12:00AM

Rose ascends to the throne

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The king is dead. Long live the new king.

Mike McCarthy's five-year reign as the leading jockey at Delaware Park is about to end. When the track closes for live racing after Sunday's program, it will crown a new top rider, 22-year-old apprentice Jeremy Rose. Rose came into Saturday's card with 148 winners, 12 more than McCarthy.

Rose, a strong candidate for an Eclipse Award as the nation's top apprentice, credits trainer Tim Ritchey, who uses him as his primary rider, and his agent, "Kid" Breeden, for his success.

"It's very gratifying," said Rose, who ranks fifth in the national jockey standings in total victories. "I couldn't have done it without Tim and Kid. When I started down at Laurel and everything was going real good, I thought I might make the top 10 at Delaware. I never expected to even to come close to be leading rider."

After Delaware closes, Rose will ride at The Meadowlands until its Thoroughbred meet ends on Nov. 10. He then intends to spend the winter riding in Maryland, with an occasional trip to New York.

Among the highlights of Rose's accomplishments at Delaware were six stakes victories. He is hopeful the leading rider title will enhance his chances to win an Eclipse.

"I think it definitely helps my case," said Rose. "I have said this before, but this is a tough colony of riders, and to be leading rider here is tough."

McCarthy was impressed with Rose's performance. "My hat goes off to Jeremy," McCarthy said. "He did a fantastic job."

Although McCarthy had to settle for second place in terms of winners, he leads all Delaware riders with $3.6 million in purse earnings. Like Rose, McCarthy also won six stakes.

"I had a wonderful season, and I can't complain," McCarthy said. "My goal was to be the leading money-earner and I'm happy about that."

McCarthy will continue riding in the mid-Atlantic region until Nov. 17, then he will take a break to prepare for the Gulfstream Park meet in January.

Wanderer finds a home

In his first year as a jockey, Joe Rocco Jr. was a gypsy, constantly moving from track to track. He rode at seven different racetracks up and down the East Coast from Tampa Bay Downs in Florida to Aqueduct in New York, never spending more than a few weeks in one place.

The 19-year-old Rocco finally found a home at Delaware Park, where he broke into the top 15 in the jockeys' standings. Coming into the final weekend of live racing, Rocco ranks 11th with 36 wins.

"This is the first time I have really put some roots down at a place," Rocco said. "Most of the time, I have been bouncing around a lot. So this year, I was determined to stay here and stick it out and it has worked out. I have gotten a lot of opportunities here, especially from Bob Camac and Jonathan Shep-pard."

Riding at Delaware has a side benefit for Rocco. He gets to ride against his father, long-time jockey Joe Rocco Sr., a top 10 rider at Delaware from 1996-2000.

"If anything, it makes you ride a little harder," said the younger Rocco. "Being next to him in a race makes me want to beat him no matter what. He gives me advice all the time, which helps to make me a better rider. Most of the time, I ask him if he thinks I should have done anything different. If I do make a mistake, he will tell me."

Rocco Jr. is considering riding at either Aqueduct or Philadelphia Park once Delaware closes, but intends to return next spring.

"I'm really happy with the way my career has developed," he said. "I will try to build business this winter, and hopefully I will come back here next year and have an even stronger year."