Archives for April 12, 2018

A Look at Jockey Jose Vargas, Jr.

‘I want to do that.’ It looked like fun.”

Seeing some of his jockey school classmates already having made an impact on the American racing scene, Jorge A.

jockey riding a horse race

Vargas Jr. is doing what he can to make a mark of his own.

Vargas, 23, leads Laurel Park’s current winter-spring meet standings with 35 wins and $1,158,229 in purse earnings from 160 starters. With 30 seconds and 29 thirds, his top-three strike rate of 59 percent is also a meet best. [Note he has since padded these stats]

On March 5, Vargas won four races at Laurel, one of nine multiple-win days he has enjoyed since making Maryland his primary home at the start of 2018.

A native of Puerto Rico, Vargas attended the country’s famed Escuela Vocacional Hipica, a riding academy that has produced Hall of Famer John Velazquez and brothers Irad Ortiz Jr. and Jose Ortiz among others.

Also in Vargas’ class were Victor Carrasco, the Maryland-based Eclipse Award-winning apprentice of 2013, and Jevian Toledo, the state’s overall leading rider in 2015 and 2017 and second in 2016. So, too, was Manny Franco, the leading rider in New York this winter.

“It was a pretty good class,” Vargas said.

Vargas was raised around the racetrack, the son and grandson of trainers. He first got on horses at age 11 or 12 and it wasn’t long before he knew he wanted to make riding horses his living. “My dad and my grandpa [Salvatore Vargas] were trainers in Puerto Rico, so it was always in the family,” Vargas said. “Going to the barns every day with my dad, he’d be doing something and when he wasn’t looking I’d jump on a horse.

“I grew up seeing my dad and watching him training and when I saw the jockeys I thought, ‘That’s something different.’ Growing up I was a groom and I learned all that, but I looked at the jockeys and said, ‘I want to do that.’ It looked like fun.”

After winning a dozen races in Puerto Rico, Vargas made his way to the U.S., where his first mount was also his first winner, Randy Allen-trained Caymus Girl on March 17, 2013, at Parx. Other than brief stints in New York and California, the latter in the summer of 2014, he remained a mainstay at Parx and Penn National.

Vargas had been considering a move to Maryland before the jockey colony was depleted by injuries to such top riders as Carrasco, Toledo, Trevor McCarthy and Horacio Karamanos. While Carrasco remains on the comeback trail from a broken leg suffered last fall at Delaware Park, Toledo returned March 9 and Karamanos followed a week later.

McCarthy, Maryland’s two-time overall riding champion, returned in January but moved his tack to New York. Vargas contacted McCarthy’s former agent, Scott Silver, and the two have forged a successful partnership. Silver also represents Maryland’s Irish jockey Feargal Lynch.

“There was an opening with Scotty and we got together and he offered me the chance. He said he had plenty of business in Maryland and he told me I had the talent so I took a shot. We’re doing good so far, thank God. I’m very thankful,” Vargas said. “So far, he’s done amazing. He’s an awesome person, very professional. I can’t ask for anything more.”

Vargas has enjoyed success riding for Kieron Magee, Maryland’s leading trainer from 2014 to 2016, who shared meet titles at Laurel winter-spring and the Preakness Meet at Pimlico in 2017.

On Dec. 9 at Laurel, Vargas won three races, two of them for Magee, including the Howard M. Bender Memorial aboard Struth. The same day he captured the Willa On the Move with Ms. Locust Point, who he would later ride to victory in last month’s G2 Barbara Fritchie.

Vargas’ other Graded-stakes win came in the 2017 G3 American St. Leger at Arlington Park aboard Postulation.

“I used to use him [Vargas] over at Parx quite a bit. I had a rider supposed to come in from out of town to ride a few horses for me before Christmas and he no-showed, and Jorge was here that day,” Magee said. “I called his agent and they rode all four and won two, one being a stake. Then he called me asked me what did I think and I said, ‘Come here and you can ride the barn.’

“He’s just a nice, nice kid. Look at the smile on his face. He comes by the barn and he’s fun to have around. He’s strong, too. You watch him come up beside somebody through the lane and they’re screwed because he just outrides them. I’m thrilled to have him here. It’s always good to start off on a roll, and what a way to start. Hopefully he can finish this thing off. He’s got some good out-of-town barns that come in here and use him, too.”

With the winter-spring meet running through May 6, Vargas hasn’t given much thought to the riding title. Apprentice Wes Hamilton, youngest son of Maryland’s Steve ‘Cowboy’ Hamilton, has won five of his last ten starts, including a four-win day March 17, to climb into second place in the standings with 26 wins.

“I’m just going for the moment,” Vargas said. “We all have some goals, but we’re just riding for the moment and wherever it takes you, it takes you. Just enjoy it.”

Kentucky Derby or 2000 Guineas: Which Classic Will Ryan Moore Ride in Come May 5?

“The Kentucky Derby is a race on my bucket list, but we’ll have to see what’s best to do closer to the time.”

If you’re a horse racing fan and haven’t already circled May 5 as a date in your diary, then here’s a brief and gentle reminder why you should.

On one side of the Atlantic, the first Classic of the British and Irish flat season takes place at Newmarket, with the 2000 Guineas centre stage. In the Bluegrass State, meanwhile, Churchill Downs hosts the Kentucky Derby – the culmination of a two-week racing festival in Louisville.

Ryan Moore by Ogiyoshisan

The all-conquering stable of master Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore owners take aim at valuable and prestigious races all over the world these days. For evidence of that, see Mendelssohn’s 18-lengths-plus romp in the UAE Derby as the colt left the field in his wake on the dirt under Ryan Moore at Meydan.

Such globetrotting exploits – Mendelssohn also landed the Juvenile Turf race at the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar on his previous start and final one of last season – present connections with a problem. A nice one to have to be sure, but Moore cannot ride both the ante-post Kentucky Derby fancy and either Saxon Warrior or Gustav Klimt in the 2000 Guineas.

What would you do? Well, current odds suggests Moore will be getting the leg up Stateside rather than riding at Newmarket. He’s odds-on with leading British and Irish bookmakers for Churchill Downs.

A big factor behind that short price are words from the jockey himself. Speaking after Mendelssohn bolted up in the United Arab Emirates, Moore said: “The Kentucky Derby is a race on my bucket list, but we’ll have to see what’s best to do closer to the time.”

Given Mendelssohn is clear 5/1 favorite in the latest horse racing betting with bet365 on the Kentucky Derby, it might well be the perfect opportunity to tick that ambition off. Connections certainly appear willing to go to the USA.

Having ridden two of the last three 2000 Guineas winners in Gleneagles and Churchill, Moore could be forgiven for letting someone else have a go. In the meantime, American horse racing fans will get to see him riding across Kentucky at Lexington track Keeneland.

Derby 2017 by LunchboxLarry

Moore piloted the Todd Pletcher trained colt Marconi in the Blue Grass Stakes – a recognized Kentucky Derby trial – on April 7. Pletcher called in a favor from Coolmore as that day also contained big races throughout the USA, notably in New York and California. [Moore’s mount finished off the board].

Taking this ride Stateside just a few weeks before the Kentucky Derby may be the biggest hint yet that Moore will be there on May 5 aboard Mendelssohn. Pletcher was keen to downplay the significance of booking the jockey, though, adding it had been arranged before the big Meydan win.

Although trainer and rider team up with Marconi at Keeneland, they could be competing against one another come the Kentucky Derby if Moore is on Medelssohn. Pletcher has a number of contenders for this year’s renewal of the richest Group 1 prize in the United States including market principal Audible.

And what of the 2000 Guineas hopes? Well, in Moore’s stead O’Brien can always call upon son Donnacha or Seamie Heffernan to ride Newmarket Classic contenders Saxon Warrior and Gustav Klimt.

“Off the Charts” Horses to Watch and Trip Notes – April 12, 2018

GULFSTREAM PARK

FERDINANDA (race 5 at GP, 3/31/18 FL Derby Day) – this daughter of Giant’s Causeway is a nose away from being three for three since trainer Barclay Tagg added Lasix.  Facing stakes company for the first time she flew home to just miss by a bob to the wire-to-wire winner who benefited from modest fractions.  This one will be tough next time out on the lawn.

STYLE ICON (race 7 at GP, 3/31/18) – trainer Graham Motion has a nice one in this Tampa shipper.  She was the only runner to close in this race and she encountered lots of trouble en route to her third place showing behind the Pletcher trainee.  The daughter of top turf sire Artie Schiller has finished well in both career races.

RHODE ISLAND (race 9 at GP, 3/31/18) – well meant second time starter on the grass for Shug McGaughey lost his best chance at the very start of this race.  He never gave up and continued on well.  This was only his second race and his first with blinkers on.  Half to four turf winners.

REP IPSA (race 10 at GP, 3/31/18) – despite her first race since October and facing a solid group in the G3 Honey Fox, this 5yo mare finished like a shot to just miss to the talented Lull, who took this field gate to wire.  Daughter of English Channel could be set for a strong year for Ian Wilkes.

KEENELAND

TRUE SAINT (Race 1 at KEE, 4/6/18) – the first race of the spring meet featured an impressive performance from this Bret Calhoun two year old.  The colt was steadied as they turned for home behind the even-money Wesley Ward frontrunner.  Lost nearly two lengths in momentum and then re-rallied to run that rival down in the late stages.  A lot of professionalism and talent from this baby.