Twenty-three-year-old Rafael Bejarano won the 1,000th race of his career on Thursday when he piloted the Greg Foley-trained Northern Vacation to victory in the first race at Keeneland. The win was one of two for Bejarano on the card and his 10th since the beginning of the Keenland's fall meet, where the Peruvian rider has posted a 23% win rate for the first five days of the meeting. "I love Kentucky," Bejarano said. "To spend the time riding here is like a dream come true for me. I want to make myself better, I like a challenge. I study from everyone and ask 'How can I improve?' That's why I'm here."One of the nation's top young riders, Bejarano graduated from the Jockey School of Peru in 2002. He earned his first career victory at River Downs on July 10 of that year and went on to earn the Hoosier Park riding title, improving his game in 2003 with an 18% winning clip. In 2004, he got his first grade I win aboard Colonial Colony in the Stephen Foster Handicap, won riding titles at five Kentucky tracks (Churchill Downs, Ellis, Turfway, Kentucky Downs, and Keeneland), and led the nation in wins with 455. Bejarano returned to Kentucky this fall after spending a month at Belmont, where he ranked ninth in rider standings through October 7. He earned his tenth stakes victory of the 2005 racing season at Keeneland the following day, when he piloted the Todd Pletcher-trained Host to a dynamic win in the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT). "Rafael is a very natural rider who makes the horses feel calm and ready to run," said leading jockey Edgar Prado, a fellow Peruvian who has been Bejarano's mentor for the past three years. "I'm very proud that he is challenging himself and continues to be open to critiquing. I try to help him and tell him, 'You should do this' or 'Don't do that,' but in the end it's up to him to have the willpower to go on. He's proving that he does." Prado ranked second in Keeneland's jockey standings as of Wednesday.
"He's a good kid, he's got something special," said Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, who paired up with Bejarano to win this year's Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) with Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) contender Sun King. "The horses relax, they run very well for him. So far he's keeping his head on his shoulders and, if he continues to do that, he'll go far."