01/07/2004 1:00AM

Soon to lose bug, Perez catches fire

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - While Eclipse Award finalist Pablo Fragoso has firmly established himself as New York's leading apprentice jockey, it is now becoming equally clear who is No. 2.

Edwin Perez, a 19-year-old native of El Salvador, has caught fire lately, winning eight races in his last 35 mounts, since Dec. 19. His list of winners includes longshots Pert Reply ($89.50), Big Ruby K ($44), Base Stealer ($33.60), and Hawk City Lord ($70).

His streak has not gone unnoticed. Gary Contessa, the leading trainer at the last two inner-track meets, named Perez on one horse Wednesday - Exploit Choice, who finished fifth - as well as three for Thursday and two more on Friday.

"Every winter some bug boy gets red hot, and I like to ride the wave, too," said Contessa, who is only 3 for 33 this winter. "I like what I've seen. He's patient when he needs to be, he's a good gate boy and a strong finisher."

Perez, who is scheduled to lose his apprentice status on Feb. 15, made his mark at Penn National in 2003, winning 84 races from 598 mounts. On the advice of Penn National journeyman Chris Morales, and with the chance to get Hall of Fame jockey Jorge Velasquez as his agent, Perez made the move to New York in December.

Velasquez has been impressed with Perez's work ethic and ability.

"I'm going to try and teach him and help him," Velasquez said. "Every time he makes a mistake, I'm going to show it to him. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, and he's in bed early. There are times when I come out and he's here before me."

Perez began riding in November 2002 at Penn National after working several months on an Ocala, Fla., farm for Brian Rice, the brother of trainer Linda Rice. Perez became the first-call rider for trainer Jose Martinez, who finished 2003 as third-leading trainer at Penn National.

"He listens to what he's told," said Earl Kindt, Perez's agent at Penn National. "I have a journeyman rider here, Emilio Flores, and he really helped him. Perez listened and didn't get a hot head like a lot of these kids who say, 'I know what I'm doing, I'm winning races.' "

At Penn National, Perez developed a reputation as a strong finisher and even admits a preference to riding horses who have that running style.

"I like to be off the pace," Perez said. "I don't like going to the front."

Snake Mountain back in training

Snake Mountain, sidelined for the past month with a foot bruise, returned to training Wednesday morning, galloping over the training track.

Snake Mountain, who won three stakes over the inner track last winter, was forced to miss the Queens County Handicap and was not even nominated to next weekend's Aqueduct Handicap. He had spent the last couple of weeks at the New Jersey Equine Clinic and returned to trainer Jimmy Jerkens's Belmont Park barn on Monday.

According to Shaffick Mohammed, Jerkens's assistant, Snake Mountain developed an infection in his foot, caused by a high nail that went through the shoe. Snake Mountain has now been equipped with glue-on shoes.

"He was pretty sound yesterday and this morning," said Mohammed, who believes Snake Mountain could be back to the races in a month. "He puts a lot of work into his gallops."

Spite the Devil seeks skid-buster

Spite the Devil, winless in nine starts since upsetting the Grade 3 Withers in May, looks poised to break that skid in Friday's featured second-level allowance at a mile and 70 yards.

In his last start, Spite the Devil finished second behind the favored Make My Dayjur at this condition. Spite the Devil lost ground around the turn in that race and weakened late after heading Make My Dayjur in midstretch. The turnback from nine furlongs may work in Spite the Devil's favor.

Trainer Steve Klesaris sends out the entry of Paris Sunrise and Supervisor. Paris Sunrise was beaten four lengths at this condition on Dec. 12, in a race in which he was briefly stalled in traffic. Supervisor, who finished third in the Peter Pan Stakes, returns to dirt after three turf tries. He makes his first start off the claim for Klesaris.

Lukas scores with two longshots

The dormant D. Wayne Lukas barn woke up Wednesday with longshot winners Special Tactics ($21.20) and Ozzie Cat ($24.60). Ariel Smith, who was 2 for 105 in New York since September, rode both winners.

Lukas, who won only 19 races in New York in 2003, last won two races on one NYRA card on Aug. 4, 2002, at Saratoga.

Spooky Mulder draws off from Kazoo

The pace-pressing Spooky Mulder ($10.40) drew away from pacesetter Kazoo inside the eighth pole to win Wednesday's featured optional claiming race by 3 1/2 lengths. Kazoo held second, one length ahead of favored Peeping Tom, who nosed out Big E E for third.

Spooky Mulder, ridden by Julian Pimentel and trained by Scott Lake, covered six furlongs in 1:11.60.