01/19/2007 12:00AM

Velasquez primed for career year

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Cornelio Velasquez may not get as much publicity or as many headlines as colleagues such as John Velazquez or Edgar Prado. But Velasquez, 38, has certainly been no stranger to success over the past several years while seemingly primed for his best season yet in 2007.

Velasquez, a native of Panama, has gotten off to a quick start at Gulfstream Park. His hat trick on Wednesday moved him into sole possession of second place in the jockey standings behind only Prado after the opening two weeks of the meet. He is also the regular rider for three of the top horses stabled in south Florida this winter, including leading Kentucky Derby prospect Nobiz Like Shobiz, who is expected to make his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 3.

Velasquez finished second in the Gulfstream standings a year ago with 83 winners, three behind Velazquez, before building upon that momentum after leaving south Florida. He won the Grade 1 Ashland aboard Bushfire and finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby astride the inexperienced Showing Up, with whom he won both the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes and Grade 1 Hollywood Derby later in the year. He also captured the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps with Take D' Tour.

Velasquez, the second-leading rider in North America in 2002 with 332 victories, has also won two Breeders' Cup races, with Cajun Beat (2003 Sprint) and Pleasant Home (2005 Distaff), and finished second on longshot Closing Argument in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

"I am very happy with the start I've had here this winter, and I certainly have some very nice stakes horses to ride right now," Velasquez said following the conclusion of Thursday's card. "I think Nobiz Like Shobiz is the best 3-year-old I've ridden in my career. The first time I worked him last summer I told Mr. [Barclay] Tagg he was going to be a very good horse. I've worked him a few times since he came down here for the winter and he seems to be getting better every time. I'm looking forward to him finally running again in the Holy Bull."

Showing Up will not launch his 2007 campaign until the spring.

Velasquez is also the regular rider for Chatain, who upset the more seasoned Sir Greeley and Sweetnorthernsaint in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Stakes here earlier this month. Chatain is headed for a date with likely Horse of the Year Invasor and Premium Tap on Feb. 3 in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

"I think he's a very good horse and another who should keep getting better with more racing," said Velasquez of Chatain. "I look for him to run well in the Donn."

Velasquez is among the hardest working and busiest riders on the grounds. He led all riders with 501 mounts here a year ago and said he is planning to stay through the end of the meet before moving on to New York in April.

"I'd love to be leading rider, but beating Edgar and Johnny will be tough," said Velasquez. "They have a lot of good business and I'd be happy to finish third against those two, although I'm out there trying hard with every horse I ride, and if I could make it to the top it would be great."

Several stakes horses work

Nobiz Like Shobiz continued to prepare for his 3-year-old bow when he breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:01.40 here Friday. The work was the fourth this month for Nobiz Like Shobiz, a son of Albert the Great who has not started since winning the Grade 2 Remsen on Nov. 25.

Nobiz Like Shobiz was one of several notable horses prepping for upcoming stakes on Friday's tab at Gulfstream. He was joined by Grade 1 winner Swap Fliparoo, who went a bullet five-eighths in 58.60 seconds in preparation for the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint, and Papi Chullo, who zipped six furlongs from the gate in 1:11.60 for his expected start in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic.

Papi Chullo has been training at Palm Beach Downs but shipped down the turnpike for Friday's drill. Trained by Louise Teater, Papi Chullo is coming off a second-place finish behind Magna Graduate in the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap on Dec. 9.

* Prado solidified his lead atop the jockey standings by riding three winners, including both ends of the early daily double, on Thursday, before catching a flight to Peru, where he will spend the next five days to attend memorial services for his mother, Zenaida Julia Prado, who died one year ago. Prado is scheduled to return when racing resumes following two dark days on Wednesday.