By Dan Lauletta
Lorenzo Lezcano is the official riding champion of the Aqueduct winter meet and the first apprentice to capture a meet title in New York since Ramon Perez did so at Aqueduct in the fall of 1994.
The 20-year old native of Panama took firm command of the race with a five-win day Feb. 6, and sealed the crown by riding winners on eight straight cards between Feb. 27 and March 7. Overall, Lezcano won 70 races, eight more than Javier Castellano.
"Oh yes," he said about being surprised with his success. "I worked very hard every day."
Lezcano speaks little English, but overcame that language barrier to prevail against the deepest winter jockey colony New York has seen in many years. He cited trainers Gary Contessa, Allen Iwinski, and Nick Zito as trainers who have given him the most support since his arrival in the United States last summer.
Racing moves to the main track for the opening of the spring meet March 13. Lezcano will not be in contention to win another title. After he loses his apprentice allowance following the races March 21, Lezcano plans to drop appeals on a pair of 10-day, careless riding suspensions. He will return in mid-April, and has designs on remaining in New York through the Belmont and Saratoga meets.
Behind Lezcano and Castellano, Shaun Bridgmohan checked in third with 55 winners, Mike Luzzi was fourth with 44 wins, and Richard Migliore was fifth with 40. Aaron Gryder, who won the title the previous three years, slumped to a sixth-place finish. He tied Norberto Arroyo Jr. with 37 wins.
Lezcano's strong performance in New York helped him to the 10th spot on the current North American leading jockeys' list by earnings. Through March 10, Lezcano had 51 wins in 313 starts for earnings of $1,568,955.