02/21/2007 1:00AM

With several jocks out, Garcia finds opening

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It wasn't too long ago that trainers were taking Alan Garcia off their horses in search of a more experienced rider. This winter, with several journeyman jockeys out of town or sidelined by injury, horsemen have been turning to the 21-year-old Garcia with regularity and could not be more pleased with the results.

Since Feb. 1, Garcia has ridden 20 winners from 81 mounts and has moved into fourth place in the Aqueduct winter jockey standings with 40 winners. Last winter, Garcia finished seventh during the inner-track meet with 43 winners. One of those victories came aboard Achilles of Troy in the Count Fleet Stakes. But the next time Achilles of Troy ran, in the Whirlaway, Ramon Dominguez had the mount. A similar thing had happened the previous winter on Scrappy T, a horse Garcia won the Count Fleet on before finishing third aboard him in the Whirlaway.

"It was a learning experience for him," said Tony Micallef, Garcia's agent for the last 14 months. "I told him, 'You're going to be taken off these horses right now.' "

With Dominguez, Jose Santos, and Norberto Arroyo Jr. having missed time due to injuries this winter, Garcia has picked up some of their business. Garcia has won six races for leading trainer Gary Contessa, who also plans to name him on two stakes mounts this weekend at Aqueduct.

"I love him," said Contessa, who leads all trainers with 51 inner-track wins. "I think he's a rider with a future. He's got a good set of hands. He's cool under fire and makes the right moves."

Contessa recalled the day two years ago when Garcia rode Pavo for Paraneck Stable to a second-place finish in the Gotham after losing his irons midway down the backstretch. Pavo was ultimately disqualified to fourth for interference.

"That was the most awesome display of horsemanship," Contessa said. "That stamped him as a legitimate horseman. I'd like to see him stay [in New York]. I think I'd be a big supporter."

After riding in New York last winter, Garcia was a top-five rider in New Jersey, winning 58 races at Monmouth Park and 27 at the Meadowlands. That success brought Garcia back to New York this winter full of confidence.

"I feel a little more comfortable than before," said Garcia, a native of Peru, where his father and grandfather were jockeys. "I'm riding better every day. Every time I look at my races I want to see what I did wrong, see what I did good. I always have to learn something."

Kiaran McLaughlin, who used the little-known teenager Fernando Jara on Grade 1 winners Jazil and Invasor last year, has been a big supporter of Garcia this winter, putting him on seven winners at this meet.

"We think he's a very underrated rider, a very talented young rider," said Art Magnusson, McLaughlin's New York assistant. "We're very happy to have him. He rides the inner track very, very well. He understands the inner track, he's a very forward rider, and he seems right now to be confident on everything."

Micallef believes Garcia has the work ethic and talent "to be the next Edgar Prado," another native of Peru who just won his first Eclipse Award as North America's top rider.

Dominguez awaiting MRI results

Dominguez, who has not ridden since a spill on Feb. 1, finally underwent an MRI on his right knee Wednesday, but he is not expected to get the results back until Friday, his agent, Steve Rushing, said.

Rushing said Dominguez is feeling much better and is hopeful he could get clearance to begin riding next Wednesday.

"He was really encouraged by the progress he's making," Rushing said. "He's been able to ride the stationary bike, and walk pain-free. He's optimistic he's going to get a good result. If it was up to him, he wants to ride Wednesday."

At the time of his spill, Dominguez had a 13-win lead over Eibar Coa in the rider standings. Coa has since caught up, and the two each had 67 wins through Monday.

Successful Affair totes 127

Successful Affair has morphed from low-level claimer to multiple stakes winner. On Friday, he takes a steep drop in company when he runs in a $34,000 starter handicap for horses who have started for a claiming price of $16,000 at least once since 2005.

While he appears to have this field at his mercy, Successful Affair will have to carry high weight of 127 pounds, spotting his five rivals 11 to 15 pounds.

Since being claimed by Contessa for $16,000 last October, Successful Affair has won 3 of 4 starts, including the Coyote Lakes and Gallant Fox handicaps.

"They couldn't have written a better race for me, but he is carrying 127 pounds. The last time I checked he only weighs 327 pounds," Contessa joked. "He's not built like a football player; he's built like a marathon runner. This will test his mettle, carrying 127 pounds."

Mike Luzzi rides Successful Affair from post 3. Taking the Redeye, under Eibar Coa, is the one to catch.

Friday's nominal feature is a first-level allowance dash for New York-bred 3-year-olds. Maryland shipper Belly Rub and Joaquin Memphis head the seven-horse field.

Highweights to skip Rare Treat

The top three highweights are all expected to skip Saturday's $65,000 Rare Treat Handicap, effectively turning the race into a second-level allowance.

A True Pussycat, the assigned 120-pound highweight based on two stakes wins here, is being pointed to the $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn on March 10. Victory Pool, the third-place finisher in the Affectionately, will skip the race to point for something shorter, and Great Intentions, the Affectionately winner, just ran in Monday's Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park.

The racing office may have trouble getting the race to fill. As of Wednesday, the three horses considered definite were Amber Note, Daytime Promise, and Dina.

Contessa said he may not run Daytime Promise if the race comes up void of speed.

* Sir Whimsey, runner-up in the Whirlaway, worked four furlongs in 48.72 seconds on Wednesday as he points toward a start in the Grade 2, $200,000 Gotham here on March 10.