01/16/2002 12:00AM

Trujillo catches on quickly

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In September 2000, apprentice jockey Elvis Trujillo graduated from the Laffit Pincay Jockey School in Panama. Today, he is riding alongside his idol, and occasionally beating him.

At the start of Wednesday's program, Trujillo was tied for eighth in the Santa Anita jockey standings. It is quite an accomplishment for a jockey who rode his first race in the United States last month at Hollywood Park.

Trujillo, 18, has accomplished a lot since he launched his career.

After riding briefly in Panama, Trujillo moved to Mexico City, where he won 58 races. Trujillo moved to California last month, rode one day, but was forced to return to Central America to complete immigration papers. He has been back in California since Dec. 26.

"I'm pleased with the way it's started," Trujillo said through Alex Solis, who served as a translator in the jockeys' room on Wednesday morning. "It's been a dream came true."

No apprentice jockey in California has been in as much demand in the last month. Trujillo has ridden for a variety of trainers and is booked to ride four races on Friday. Last month, he rode his first winner for trainer Wesley Ward, the 1984 champion apprentice jockey.

"I'm really surprised at how well he's done," Ward said. "This is the toughest meet. He's a good rider and he's gotten lucky."

Trujillo is one of five Panamanian jockeys in Southern California, joined by Omar Berrio, Martin Pedroza, Pincay, and Solis. Their camaraderie has made him feel at home, but has not done much to help his English, a language he does not know.

Trujillo insists he is learning, but the language barrier prevents him from visiting with everyone, including with his agent, Bill Barisoff, who speaks little Spanish.

About the only other drawback trainers mention is his lack of experience, which is natural for an apprentice.

"He looks good on the horses, but he's a little green," said trainer Paco Gonzalez. "He's got a good attitude. He's always singing in the mornings."

Trujillo is trying to emulate the success of Tyler Baze, who won the 2000 Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice jockey on the strength of his Southern California record.

"Since I was a little kid, I've dreamed of coming to ride in California," Trujillo said. "It's a dream come true."

Hess would be happy to run second

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. is taking a realistic approach to Saturday's $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes, California's first major prep of 2002 for the Kentucky Derby.

Hess starts National Park, who will be a longshot in a field led by Siphonic, the winner of the Hollywood Futurity last month and the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile

"We're all running for second money," Hess said.

* is making his debut on dirt, having finished third in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park in his U.S. debut last November.

"If he likes it, we'll have a new avenue," Hess said. "He doesn't like the deep turf so the performance in the Generous was pretty good. It led us to believe he'll like the dirt."

Recent history is working in favor of the National Park. Former turf horses have won the Santa Catalina twice in the last five years - Hello (1997) and The Deputy (2000). The Deputy later won the Santa Anita Derby.

"I think this will be a good barometer of our horse on the dirt," Hess said.

Siphonic, who will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, is likely to have only four opponents, including Cottonwood Cowboy, Kedington, and Labamta Babe.

Hawk's Top Gun wires allowance

Hawk's Top Gun ended a three-race losing streak with a front-running victory in a $50,000 allowance race for 3-year-olds in Wednesday's second race.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Hawk's Top Gun ($12.60) finished seven furlongs in 1:23.22. Ridden by Mike Smith, Hawk's Top Gun finished a head in front of Stormy Forever, a shipper from Kentucky. Historic Speech, the 3-5 favorite, finished third in a field of five.

Agents pitch in to help a friend

Barisoff is currently undergoing radiation treatment for cancer, but still makes it to the track daily. Recently, his fellow jockey agents conducted a raffle of golf equipment to help defray his medical costs. The event raised $13,700, according to agent Vince DeGregory.

"I know it's hard for him to accept it," DeGregory said. "We're all racetrackers."

Barisoff said he was overwhelmed by the gratitude. "I'd really like to thank everyone," he said. "Hopefully the radiation will take care of it.

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