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Bejarano riding hot streak

Any handicapper who says jockeys don’t make a difference hasn’t been watching Rafael Bejarano ride on a day-to-day basis. His dominance of the Southern California jockey colony in his first year out west is truly remarkable.

He is on pace to sweep the five major riding titles this year at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Oak Tree and Hollywood Park, spring and fall. No disrespect to Martin Pedroza winning another Fairplex title, but most of the top 10 riders skip the Pomona fair.

About this time last year, Bejarano and Julien Leparoux decided to move to Southern California upon the conclusion of the Churchill fall meeting. They were 1-2 in Kentucky and weren’t going to ride another winter at Turfway Park.

One of them made it big and one didn’t make it at all in Southern California. The difference in Bejarano hitting a home run and Leparoux striking out was strictly business. The 26-year-old Bejarano had many top barns lined up, and that steady business gave him a diet of live horses. Leparoux was aligned mainly with trainer Patrick Biancone, who was serving a one-year suspension. Even the most skilled jockey can’t ride slow horses to victory.

Leparoux is outstanding in his own right. He just polished off a record seven-win day at Churchill on Tuesday. But the current clip at which Bejarano is winning races reminds me of Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr. in their youth.

In fact, include Bejarano with Eclipse Award winner Garrett Gomez, and there is a two-headed combo right now that rivals Shoemaker and Pincay in their prime.

I agree with Ralph Siraco of the radio show “RaceDay Las Vegas,” who says that the horse is 90 percent of winning a race and a jockey is 10 percent. And when two horses are nearly equal in talent, then the 10 percent jockey turns into 100 percent in deciding the outcome.

Another theory says a great rider is worth about a head to a neck advantage versus an average rider. It doesn’t sound like much but neatly explains why the great ones like Bejarano and Gomez can win so many photo finishes.

QUALIFIERS — Two big handicapping qualifiers are set for Thursday.

At Red Rock, there is a $40 subqualifier on the way to the National Handicapping Championship in January. On the same day, the South Point will have a $150 contest leading to the South Point Finale in April.

Because you can’t be in two places at once, I suggest you enlist a partner with a cell phone and then play in both.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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