07/12/2006 12:00AM

Sabatini has proven team in her corner


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It will just be a matter of days when Julien Leparoux rejoins his mentor, trainer Patrick Biancone, at Saratoga, where Leparoux went virtually unnoticed last summer accepting the first mounts of a North American riding career that has since zoomed off the charts.

Leparoux, who turns 23 Saturday, not only is threatening to become the first apprentice to lead a race meet in the modern history of Churchill Downs, but he is making an even stronger bid to lead all North American jockeys in wins this year. Leparoux had 267 wins and a commanding lead atop the national standings going into the Wednesday card at Churchill, where the 57-day spring meet ends Sunday.

As Biancone's protege and first-call rider, Leparoux is quick to credit the advice and tutelage of Biancone, a fellow Frenchman, as huge factors in his astounding success. Some of that success is even quantifiable: From his 295 overall wins, which includes 28 in 2005, Leparoux has won 32 times (from 128 mounts) for Biancone.

Biancone, whose stable has been split between Saratoga and Turfway Park in recent months, soon will consolidate his best runners at Saratoga, where the 36-day meet begins July 26. Biancone has spent most of his time at Saratoga, physically removed from the day-to-day action at Churchill, where Leparoux held a tenuous lead over Rafael Bejarano heading into the final week.

Friday, when the final twilight program of the meet is run, Leparoux and Biancone will team with one of the major contenders in the $54,000 feature, a first-level allowance that highlights an 11-race card. Sabatini, a Five Star Day filly who already is twice graded-stakes placed, will make her first start in more than three months when she faces older rivals for the first time in the seven-furlong race.

opened her career here last November with a sensational five-length maiden victory, then followed with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet and a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel. Upon returning to Kentucky for the spring, she was the beaten favorite in the Bourbonette at Turfway and an April allowance at Keeneland, after which Biancone effectively called time out for a regrouping.

Sabatini might well be favored again Friday, when she faces 10 other fillies and mares, and if she is to prevail, she will do so in a solid group. Other logical contenders include .

First post is 2:45 p.m. Eastern.