09/05/2001 12:00AM

Top apprentice returns - with a fistful of wins

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - The newest member of the local jockey colony is J.G. Matos, who was a hot apprentice in Southern California a few years ago but has been in Puerto Rico since March 1998.

He arrived in northern California just before the opening of the current fall Bay Meadows meet, and got off to a flying start. He won three races last Saturday, the second day of the meet, and came into Wednesday's program with five winners from 16 mounts.

"I'm very happy" said Matos about his fast start. "I have a good agent, and I'm getting along real good with the people here."

Matos surprised a lot of people when he left the state despite his successful apprenticeship in Southern California.

"I went home as soon as I lost the bug," he said. "I was homesick, and my mother was not well [she is fine now]. I have been riding in Puerto Rico and I've won a lot of races, but it's not like California. Here, there's a lot more money."

Matos, 23, originally arrived in Southern California in 1997. He won his first race on May 1 at Hollywood Park, and not only was leading apprentice at the spring-summer meeting, but was fourth on the overall standings. He lost his apprentice allowance and went home in March 1998.

He won a lot of races for trainer Neil Drysdale, and won a stakes for him and for Lloyd Mason.

Matos's agent is the veteran Joe Griffin, who said that the rider's former agent, Tony Matos (no relation), convinced him to come to northern California.

It could be assumed that Matos's goal is to do well here and eventually work his way back to Southern California, but Griffin said it is too soon to think about that. "His goal is to be one of the top jocks in northern California," the agent said.

Matos was an instant success as an apprentice, as he won his fifth race on May 16, 1997, and won his 35th on July 5.

He finished his Southern California apprenticeship with 106 winners, 90 seconds, and 105 thirds from 770 mounts, and his horses earned $3,079,541.