06/29/2005 11:00PM

Solis enters weekend on a roll

Benoit & Associates
Alex Solis and Megahertz after winning the Beverly Hills.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It is about this time of year, just before the start of Del Mar, that Alex Solis often allows himself a few days off to spend time with his family and take a much-needed vacation after months of nonstop riding.

"Not this year," Solis said on Thursday. "I'm just having fun. I've been working hard to get my business rolling and we're heading that way. I'm very happy with the results."

After the events of the last year, it may be awhile before Solis takes another vacation.

Last July, he suffered a fractured vertebra in a one-horse spill at Del Mar. The injury left him sidelined until mid-February when he returned at Santa Anita.

When he returned, Solis reflected on how much he missed riding.

"When something like that happens and you get to a dead stop, you appreciate what you're doing," he said. "I remember how much I missed it. I almost didn't get to do it ever again."

Solis finished the Santa Anita meeting ninth in the rider standings with 28 wins. He has been the hottest rider in the last week at Hollywood.

From Saturday through Wednesday, a period of three racing days, Solis won 9 races from 18 rides, including wins on 3 of 4 mounts on Wednesday.

The win spree left Solis in third place in the jockeys standings with 40 wins, eight behind leader Garrett Gomez. More importantly for Solis, seven of those wins came in stakes. He leads all riders in that category.

On Saturday and Sunday, Solis has rides in four of the six major stakes. On Saturday, he rides River's Prayer in the $100,000 Landaluce Stakes. Sunday, he rides Sweet Firebird in the $750,000 American Oaks, Taste of Paradise in the $350,000 Triple Bend Handicap, and Tucked Away in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap. He does not have mounts in the $250,000 American Handicap or $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes.

Solis needs a big weekend to propel him toward a goal of finishing the year in the top 10 in the nation in earnings. Through Wednesday, he was 20th with $3,900,531. Last year, despite the injury, he finished ninth with $11,554,881. Winning the $6 million Dubai World Cup on Pleasantly Perfect in March 2004 was the highlight of the year.

"It's so important to peak in those big races," he said. "I've been fortunate since I've been back to ride some big ones."

River's Prayer is Solis's best chance for a stakes win this weekend. She will be a short-priced favorite in the Landaluce, seeking her third win.

The race marks the first time that Solis has ridden River's Prayer. Co-owner and trainer Paula Capestro replaced Felipe Martinez, who was aboard for the filly's first two wins.

"They had three guys in mind, I was one of them," Solis said. "When I got on her the first time, I was happy they chose me. She looks like a good filly."

Wins by Solis aboard Sweet Firebird, Taste of Paradise, or Tucked Away would be upsets.

Sweet Firebird is making her first start in the U.S. Trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld, who won the 2003 American Oaks with Dimitrova, Sweet Firebird has one victory in five starts. She was third in the Group 3 Blue Wind Stakes over 1 1/4 miles at Naas, Ireland, on May 14 as a maiden and returned to win a maiden race over 1 1/4 miles at Clonmel, Ireland, on May 26.

Solis spent Thursday morning on the Internet, studying Sweet Firebird's form.

"I read as much as I could about her," he said. "I'll get a tape and study that, too. I love my chances this week."

Sunday: Five stakes, big fields

Two days after only 51 horses were entered for Thursday's eight-race program, there are 113 horses entered for Sunday's 11-race program.

The card features five stakes, each of which drew nine or more entrants.

Andujar, the winner of the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap last month, will be heavily favored in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap over 1 1/8 miles, the third race.

King of Happiness, who was second in the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on May 30, is the top contender for the $250,000 American Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

The Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap over seven furlongs drew a full field of 14 and is wide open. Forest Grove, the winner of the Los Angeles Times Handicap on May 14, and McCann's Mojave, the winner of the Ack Ack Handicap on June 11, are the top contenders.

There are nine fillies and mares in the $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes over a mile on turf, but the status of top contender Mea Domina is under a cloud. The winner of the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 30, Mea Domina is battling a quarter crack, trainer Ron McAnally said on Thursday.