04/26/2002 12:00AM

Smooth transition so far


Jeremy Rose had heard the horror stories. He was told over and over about how life changes for a young jockey after he loses his apprenticeship and the coveted five-pound weight allowance that goes with it.

He was told how for most newly turned journeyman riders business slows considerably. An apprentice who may have ridden seven or eight horses a day, is lucky to get three or four. And the caliber of stock changes, too. The short-priced favorites become double-digit longshots.

And it often doesn't matter if you won the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice rider, as Rose did in 2001, winning 312 races and more than $6.6 million in purses, a record amount of money for an apprentice.

"Everybody told me how you struggle after you lose the bug," Rose said in a recent interview. "I was extremely worried about that."

His fears lasted less than a day.

On Feb. 17, Rose's first day as a journeyman, he won three races at Laurel Park, including the $100,000 John B. Campbell Handicap aboard longshot Lyracist. Rose didn't stop there.

In his first 30 days as a journeyman, he rode 50 winners and defeated Ramon Dominguez, 86-77, to win the Laurel riding title. All Dominguez did in 2001 was lead the country with 431 wins. Rose was fourth in the nation.

In the month of March, Rose went 41 for 139 (29 percent) and had 12 multiple-win days.

Now, two months into life as a journeyman and Rose, who turned 23 on April 1, is still going strong. Through April 24, Rose was the third leading rider in the country with 112 wins, behind only Russell Baze and Robby Albarado.

Rose comes from the same circuit that has produced such talented journeyman as Kent Desormeaux and Edgar Prado. He scoffs when someone mentions his name with those riders.

"I don't think I'm at that level yet," Rose said. "I've got a lot more to learn."

Saturday, Rose was to begin defense of his Delaware Park riding title. Last year, he won 150 races at Delaware to unseat Michael McCarthy, who had won the previous five riding titles at the Stanton, Del., track.

Rose's continued success as a journeyman does not surprise those who have watched him closely. Perhaps no one has watched him more closely than Tim Ritchey, Delaware's leading trainer in 2001, who uses Rose almost exclusively.

"It was like riding a journeyman getting five pounds," Ritchey said. "He rode like an old rider because he was brought up the right way. He didn't just get his license and start riding. He worked horses for two or three years, went to a jockey school."

Rose is a native of Bellefonte, Pa., in the shadow of Penn State University in State College, Pa. He was a state champion wrestler at the 103-pound division, a sport in which he learned the importance of balance.

Rose showed horses as a teenager, but did not visit a track until he was 19 years old, when a family friend and horse owner, Bob Zeller, took him to Penn National. The combination of speed and competition hooked Rose.

Rose attended a riding school in Puerto Rico for nine months, breaking young horses and polishing his skills. He hooked up with Delaware Park-based trainer Michael Petro, who gave him a job as an exercise rider and for whom he rode his first winner, in September 2000. Petro and his brother Nick, a jockey, also worked with Rose on his riding skills.

When he was ready, the Petros called friend and jock agent John Breeden and told him to take Rose's book. It didn't take long for Breeden to understand why.

"He's a fast learner, he listens well, and he saves ground," Breeden said. "Horses run for him. He's one of those like Desormeaux was and like Prado was during their apprenticeships. He's a very likeable kid, he's young and he's intelligent, and he works hard. He has no bad habits."

One habit that has endeared Rose to horsemen is his love affair with the rail. Rose has called the rail his "comfort zone."

"First, it's the shortest trip around," Rose said. "If you have enough horse you should win. Second, if I'm on the rail, I only have to worry what horses are doing outside of me and in front of me. It takes some of the thinking out of it."

With the opening of Delaware, Rose plans to ride four days a week there and three days at Pimlico. By the end of May, he will be at Delaware five days a week.

At Delaware, he will again be competing against McCarthy, as well as Dominguez and Eddie Martin, one of the leading riders at Fair Grounds.

Breeden said if Rose finishes first or second in the standings at Delaware, he would more than likely move his tack to California for the winter.

"Some of the riders are getting older and the money's good," Breeden said.

By then, who knows how good Rose will be.