National riding leader Rafael Bejarano continues to impress Churchill Downs trainers, where he is running away with the 2004 jockey title.Bejarano racked up three more victories on Thursday to increase his meet-leading victory total to 65 and extend his lead over second-place Pat Day to 19 wins. His yearly total of 229 wins leads the nation and is 41 more than his nearest rival, Maryland-based Ramon Dominguez.
But Thursday's three-win effort was a fairly routine day for the 22-year-old Peruvian who emerged as a nearly unstoppable force last summer when he unseated perennial riding king Jon Court at Ellis Park. Since then he swept the holiday and winter/spring riding titles at Turfway Park and exploded out of the blocks in his breakout performance in Churchill Downs' current 53-day meet.
Among those impressed by his considerable talents is Walter Bindner, a former jockey who gave Bejarano a leg up aboard Lakeside Farm's Colonial Colony in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), who scored a 62-1 upset to give both Bejarano and Bindner the biggest victory of their respective careers.
"In 30 years of watching these young riders come around, he's the best I've ever seen," said Bindner. "He's fortunate that he has a God-given trait of being very light. That's certainly helpful because he feels good all the time and doesn't have to reduce like some of the riders do. That and the fact that he's got what I think is just a natural seat on a horse and natural hands."
Last week's victory by Lloyd Madison Farms' Champali in the Aristides Breeders' Cup (gr. III) was one of 11 wins during the Spring Meet for the team of Bejarano and trainer Greg Foley. Like Bindner, Foley sees Bejarano as a rider with enormous natural talent.
"Horses seem to run for him," said Foley. "Out here in the mornings, they always work good for him. In the afternoons, he's good out of the gate, he puts a horse in position well and he finishes strong on a horse."
Foley also appreciates Bejarano's mental approach to the sport. He notes that the young rider is seemingly unaffected by his quick success and that bodes well for his future.
"He's got a world of talent and, to be as young as he is, it looks like he's handling it very well," Foley said. "If he stays the way he is, I don't know why he wouldn't be a world-class rider."
Bindner also appreciates Bejarano's attitude and enthusiasm. He said that was never more evident than in the moments before Bejarano climbed into the saddle aboard Colonial Colony for his mammoth upset of the elite field in the Stephen Foster.
"He took one look at Colonial Colony in the paddock and goes, 'Oh, he's a big good-looking horse -- we'll win this thing.' He obviously didn't look at the odds board and he didn't care. But that's the kind of enthusiasm that he has."