08/06/2004 11:00PM

'Shackleton' scores under Bejarano

Chuck Saus/Mountaineer Race Track
Sir Shackleton, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, wins the W.Va. Derby at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in Chester, W.Va. on Saturday.

HANCOCK COUNTY, W.Va. - Jockey Rafael Bejarano leads the nation in victories this year. Saturday, he earned a hefty sum toward advancing among the leading riders in earnings.

Less than two months after winning the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap aboard Colonial Colony, Bejarano piloted another horse to a lucrative victory Saturday when Sir Shackleton won the Grade 3, $600,000 before a crowd of 16,256 at Mountaineer Race Track.

Bejarano changed tactics with Sir Shackleton in the West Virginia Derby. A front-runner in his six prior starts, Sir Shackleton was rated by Bejarano and placed in sixth, seven lengths off the pace.

The change in style was partially the result of a quick pace set by Britt's Jules, who bounced out to a clear lead with quick fractions of 47.14 seconds and 1:10.68 in the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby.

He seemed on his way to victory on the turn, but his lead quickly vanished in the stretch, with Sir Shackleton and runner-up Pollard's Vision quickly closing the gap. Sir Shackleton proved easily best in the closing yards, winning by three lengths. Britt's Jules was a half-length farther back in third.

The victory was one of three stakes victories on the card for Bejarano.

"He can ride for me anytime," said winning owner Tracy Farmer.

The West Virginia Derby was the second graded-stakes victory for Sir Shackleton, who won the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in April. In his start preceding the West Virginia Derby, he finished third in the Grade 2 Dwyer.

The winner, a 3-year-old son of Miswaki trained by Nick Zito, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.16 and paid $4.40 as a narrow favorite over Pollard's Vision.

Eibar Coa, who rode Pollard's Vision, said the difference in the race was the winner's ground-saving trip.

"Coming to the quarter pole, I really thought we were going to get it," he said. "But when I saw Sir Shackleton go to the inside, I thought, 'Lights out.' "

Farmer said he would confer with Zito before deciding on Sir Shackleton's next start. The Travers is under consideration.