I LOVE jockeys–I don’t know if it was growing up reading Dick Francis’ horsey mysteries or because there have been so many spectacular Puerto Rican jockeys in the history of the sport–but there you have it. Hence the appeal of this story and the other frequent ones I post on horse riding. This one is by Ed Golden for the Paulick Report.
In the rich history of Santa Anita Park that emerged from racing’s womb on Dec. 25, 1934, only one apprentice jockey has ever been leading rider at any previous meet, covering a span of more than eight decades. That was Gordon Glisson, who won 57 races in 1948-49.
That could change tomorrow.
Evin Roman, a 19-year-old apprentice rider from Puerto Rico, holds a 40-38 lead over previous frontrunner Flavien Prat with two racing days left in the Spring segment of Santa Anita’s current meet.
Roman, who won four races Sunday to take command, is named on 12 horses in those two days, seven today and five on Tuesday. Prat is named on 11, five today and six tomorrow.
While leaving the magic number up to the mathematicians, the odds would seem to favor Roman (pronounced ro-MON) adding his name among journeymen legends such as John Longden, Eddie Arcaro, Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr., Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Kent Desormeaux and Rafael Bejarano, all past riding champions at The Great Race Place.
As an apprentice, or ‘bug’ rider, Roman now receives a five-pound weight advantage over journeymen, who must carry the full complement of assigned weight. The word ‘bug” emanates from the asterisk-like insignia that resembles a bug listed next to the weight in a program, designating an apprentice rider. Roman loses his apprenticeship next March.
“When I first brought him here, I knew he had a lot of ability,” Matos said between rounds Monday morning. “A friend of mine from Puerto Rico gave me a choice between two or three bug boys, and I liked Evin, even with his raw ability.
“But when I first brought him here, I threw too much at him at the beginning. I put him on horses running down the hillside turf course and they ducked in on him, and he had never ridden but one race on the grass before.
“But he adjusted. He got set down (suspended) three times, which might have done him some good, because he got a chance to settle down and look at films of his races. A lot of jockeys here helped, like Santiago Gonzalez, Gary Stevens, Corey Nakatani, Mike Smith and others. They went out of their way to give him some pointers.
“Even (fellow Puerto Rican) Irad Ortiz (Jr.), when he came here, gave him some good advice. It’s important to remember than Evin has only been riding since the middle of January. Even though he went to jockey school (in Puerto Rico), this advice has opened up his eyes, he developed quickly, and I think the best is yet to come.
“He’s getting better and better every day. He still has a couple of things he has to adjust to, but right now horses run for him, he wins races, and he’s very good out of the gate. Even on a slow horse, he breaks in front out of the gate.
“I’m really excited about him. I never would have dreamed about being leading rider, or even close to leading rider. If it happens, it happens, but I’m happy to be in this position.
“I’ve been doing this for 54 years. I hate to tell you how old I am. I had Laffit for 10 years, I had (Angel) Cordero (Jr.) for 11 years, Victor (Espinoza) for 15 years, Kent Desormeaux. I’ve been blessed to have some great riders and they’re all my good friends.
“I’m glad at this stage of my career I wound up with a kid who could be a superstar.”
That may be putting the cart before the horse, although one trainer did call Roman “the best rider here.”
But former exercise rider and current assistant starter Huey Barnes, who knows where all the bodies are buried at the age of 83 and seven decades on the race track, rendered this sage advice:
“Learn what you can while you’ve got the bug, ’cause when you lose your bug, you lose your best friend.”