Rafael Bejarano

Rafael Bejarano

Anne M. Eberhardt

Bejarano Closes in on Southern Cal Sweep

New addition to circuit would become the third rider to sweep region's major meets.

With one week left until the end of Hollywood Park's 2008 fall racing season, jockey Rafael Bejarano is poised to complete a rare riding feat: a sweep of each victory title at every major meet in Southern California in 2008.

Assuming he maintains his current place at the top of the Hollywood colony -- where he led Garrett Gomez by a decisive 43-23 margin going into the Dec. 13 card -- the 26-year-old Peruvian would become only the third jockey in history to win all five titles in the region in a single year. Patrick Valenzuela managed the same in 2003, and the retired Chris McCarron was the first rider to do so in 1983.

Bejarano has ridden the South Cal circuit for little more than 12 months after making the move from his Midwest base at the suggestion of trainer Bobby Frankel in November of 2007. He won his first West Coast riding title when Santa Anita's winter/spring meet concluded in April 2008, then went on to take leading rider honors at Hollywood Park's spring/summer stand, Del Mar and Oak Tree at Santa Anita, before heading back to Hollywood again.

"I think there's just something natural about his ability that gets run out of horses," said McCarron. "He must have incredible balance because horses don't tire on him, horses that are closing close strongly, he wins a lot of photos, and he's got a lot of talent to get a good run out of horses."   

"I expected to do well when we moved here," said Bejarano's agent, Joe Ferrer, "But everyone told me how hard it was to be leading rider you could be at one meet but then the meet changes and it's almost impossible to be leading rider two meets in a row, certainly not five. So then I thought it was going to be a little difficult, but he's got so much talent that once we started winning, everybody just jumped aboard."

Ferrer said Bejarano will not ride closing day at Hollywood Dec. 21, as the jockey has days to serve for a riding infraction. He will return to the saddle for Santa Anita's opening card on Dec. 26.

Significant mounts and stakes victories have come Bejarano's way since his move to the West coast. Among those, he took the the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on Heat Seeker, the Gamely (gr. IT), Matriarch (gr. IT) and the John C. Maybee Handicap (gr. IT) on Precious Kitten, the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT) on Monzante, the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) and Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes (gr. III) with Azul Leon, the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) with Lethal Heat, the Las Virgenes (gr. I) with Golden Doc A, and the 2007 Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) with Country Star.

Bejarano ranks second in the nation by purses earned in 2008 with $15,734,892 and enjoys a 21% win rate through Dec. 13. Garrett Gomez is the national leader with earnings of $22,585,619.