06/05/2006 11:00PM

Worthwhile trip so far for jockey Verenzuela

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It's a safe bet that nobody has traveled farther to participate in racing at Louisiana Downs this meet than jockey Jose Verenzuela and his agent, Keith Dickey. Both came here from Saudi Arabia, where Verenzuela was a contract rider for King Abdullah and Dickey ran a 2-year-old barn for Prince Sultan.

So far, so good. Verenzuela has won with 8 of 49 starters at the meet to rank 11th in the standings. Thursday, he will team with one of his strongest supporters, trainer Sam David Jr., in the featured 11th race, a turf allowance route for fillies and mares. He will ride leading contender Kissin Kendall.

"I run a lot of horses long, and I think he's excellent on a horse that needs patient handling," said David. "He's got a lot of patience, and he's a very heady rider and a strong finisher, a lot of the things I look for in a rider."

Verenzuela is a 37-year-old native of Venezuela. He was his country's champion apprentice in 1988 and won a riding title there in 1993. Verenzuela has ridden at tracks in New York, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey, and in 1999 he began riding in Saudi Arabia, where he was leading rider in 2000 and 2001. Verenzuela said bloodstock agent Emmanuel de Seroux was instrumental in helping him secure a contract to ride in Saudi Arabia

"I think I'm a very patient rider," said Verenzuela. "It's my style, because most of the races in Saudi, they're long, a mile to two miles, so you have to be patient."

Dickey, a former trainer who competed at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and in New Jersey, was last based at Louisiana Downs in 1991.

"I met Jose in Saudi Arabia," he said. "He only rides there in the winter, for the most part, and I told him, 'If you come back here, I know a lot of people in Louisiana, and I think we can do good.' "

David said Dickey's strong recommendation of Verenzuela gave him reason to be optimistic.

"I knew Keith wouldn't be the type of guy that would bring a rider in here without feeling very confident in him, and then after I saw [Verenzuela] work a couple of horses I knew he was a pretty class rider," said David.

Verenzuela and David are 3 for 8 with turf starters this meet, and Kissin Kendall can add to that total. In her last start, she was second to Aly's Vow, who returned one start later to win an optional claimer

The feature comes on the first Thursday card of the meet at Louisiana Downs.

Shane Romero nearing a comeback

Jockey Shane Romero, a winner of more than 2,000 races, said he plans to return to race riding in about 45 days. He has been galloping horses at Louisiana Downs. Romero's last mount came in October 2004.

Romero said while he was away from racing he went through a drug rehabilitation program. During that time, his weight surged to 160 pounds. He is now at 130.

"I'm exercising horses," said Romero, 36. "I've got to get rid of a little weight.

"I'm doing better. I just have a whole different outlook compared to the last couple of years, and I'm ready to get back at it."

Romero has career mount earnings of more than $21 million and won five titles at Fair Grounds. Among the top horses he has ridden are Risen Star, with whom he captured the Louisiana Derby, and Jim's Orbit, with whom he won the Illinois Derby and Ohio Derby.

Northern Scene eyes Independence

Northern Scene turned in one of the best performances of his career May 29 to win the $50,000 Barksdale at Louisiana Downs by a half-length. He covered the mile on firm turf in 1:34.87 and earned a career-best Beyer of 93, equaling the figure he earned last October, when he captured the $100,000 Texas Hall of Fame at Retama Park. That day, he covered 1 1/16 miles in a blazing 1:40.95. The Barksdale was Northern Scene's first start since December.

"The winter off helped him a whole lot," said Morris Nicks, who trains Northern Scene. "We just gave him a good little break."

Nicks said he plans to run Northern Scene back in the $75,000 Independence Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf here July 3.

Happy Ticket travels Sunday

Happy Ticket, one of the top fillies and mares in training, remains on target for the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 17 and is scheduled to van from her Louisiana Downs base to Kentucky on Sunday night, said her trainer, Andrew Leggio Jr. She is scheduled to work here Saturday.