01/21/2006 1:00AM

Umana knows how to navigate local turf course


OLDSMAR, Fla. - When Awol Soldier and Juan Umana came roaring down the middle of the course to take Friday's 10th race, it was a case of two proven veterans with a fondness for the Tampa turf course teaming up for their best.

In the case of Awol Soldier, it was his eighth win from 21 outings over the local turf course, while for Umana it was the 13th win of the meeting and kept him in a tie for second in the riders' standings with Terry Houghton, 16 wins behind a red-hot Jose Lezcano. Umana has ridden 91 horses, while Houghton had gone to the post 154 times since the meeting began on Dec. 10.

It's been a good start for Umana, a Costa Rica native who won the Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice in 1993. But that is not surprising - he has been a fixture in the top 10 in the riders' standings at Tampa for a number of years. A low-key, unassuming individual, Umana is one of those riders who quietly goes about his business with little fanfare or notice. He is one of the hardest workers in the morning, and those labors pay dividends; the rider has built a solid clientele.

While he wins on both the main track and turf course, Umana admits the strategy of riding on the grass appeals to him.

"You have to anticipate how things are going to happen on the turf and be prepared," Umana said. "Sometimes you think a hole or a seam is going to open up and it doesn't. When that happens it doesn't look good, but things happen so much faster on the turf that if you're not ready to make a move you lose the opportunity in a hurry.

"And you have to try and stay covered up behind horses," he added. "You notice when horses get hung outside, they rarely have a strong late kick in the stretch, and that's what you've got to have."

Lezcano keeps on winning

The Jose Lezcano juggernaut continues, as the five-day suspension that kept the jockey sidelined Jan. 9-13 did little to slow him down. Lezcano posted a riding double on Friday, raising his win total for the meeting to 29 from just 98 mounts.

The 'other' Bennett gets rolling

Gerald Bennett took some good-natured ribbing earlier in the meeting when his son Dale got off to a hot start, but the older Bennett, who has been wintering in Tampa for years, looks like he may get the last laugh. He has vaulted into a tie with Ronnie Allen Sr. for second in the trainers' standing with 10 wins, just three back of Kirk Ziadie.

Bennett has a good mix of claiming and allowance horses, and one of his more promising runners is Bucky's Prayer, a Michigan-bred who is undefeated after three starts. Bucky's Prayer dusted a good optional claiming group by almost four lengths recently in a five-furlong turf sprint, covering the distance in 57.01 seconds.

Bucky's Prayer is eligible for the $60,000 Manatee Stakes, to be run at seven furlongs on Feb. 4.