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.”

Garrett Gomez, Eclipse Award-winning Jockey, Dead at 44

Jockey Garret GomezHuge Tragedy in the World of Horse Racing

Jockey Garrett Gomez, who was twice awarded the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey and who announced his retirement just a year ago due to his struggle with substance abuse, has died in Arizona. He was 44 years old. (more)

“The only thing keeping me going is knowing… [Read more…]

The Case for Perry Ouzts

Why this Legendary Midwest Rider should be in the Hall of Fame

by Ed Meyer

How many things have you done 48,413 times in your lifetime?  Toss out sleeping, eating, blinking and smiling and count again. Perry Wayne Ouzts’ name is being tossed around for the 2017 Hall of Fame.   To date he has 6,628 wins, 6,283 place finishes, and 5,973 show finishes. That has him 18,883 times in the money (top 3), and with over $41,816,149 in purses to his credit and a career win percentage of 14% and 39% (ITM), he is currently the 11th all-time leading rider for wins. It’s hard to imagine doing something so many times with such success. In Perry’s words from the “Ironman” documentary: “I’m gonna’ ride this train until they throw me off.”

On July 7, 1954, Perry Wayne Ouzts was born in Lepanto, Arkansas.  He was primarily raised in Rivervale with his cousins Earlie and Jackie Fires.   Earlie is in the Hall of Fame, and Jackie’s career was cut short as his body was crushed during a race, leaving him paralyzed.   Perry took his tack to Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio where his storied career began with his first winner aboard Rablu in 1973.   There’s been many miles since that day in March, but the man has remained pretty much the same. He’s mainly ridden on the smaller circuits of Beulah, Latonia (now Turfway Park), River Downs (now Belterra Park), and occasional ventures to Mountaineer and Thistledown in Cleveland.

The smaller circuits don’t draw the attention as the marquee ovals and you’ll be hard pressed to set money winning records.  Perry rode pretty much in his own backyard as he raised his family with his wife Toni who also works in the industry for trainer Bill Connelly.  In his own words: ” I just love to win races.”   The jockey starts his day at 5:30 a.m. and you’ll know he’s there when he pulls up on his motorcycle dressed in his black leather chaps and helmet. They call him “the man in black” on the backside.   He is a competitor with fire in his blood who still works horses in the morning like the all-time greats of yester-year.   “You get such a rush when you win a horse race. It doesn’t matter if it’s the cheapest of the day or $200,000; you get that same rush.”  Not bad for a 17-year-old kid who left home for the first time seven days after graduating high school.   Back then, Perry set out for Chicago to learn how to start breaking horses and work in the mornings.  He was in awe of the sport and it gripped him immediately. He knew he would ride horses someday, but couldn’t believe they were going to pay him to ride race horses.

Perry Outz John Engelhardt photo Perry has won a total of 30 riding titles in his 42 years of competition. But don’t etch that figure in stone as he currently leads the jockey standings at Belterra Park, and the meet doesn’t end until October 12, 2016.   “The first two or three years I was winning races left and right but I didn’t know what I was doing,” explained Ouzts. “I didn’t really catch on until my third year.”

According to many trainers, he could have ridden anywhere in the country and competed with anyone. But he chose the smaller circuits close to where he called home in Hebron, Kentucky.  He still works eight or more horses in the morning and rides in the afternoon. Perry feels many of the younger riders don’t understand that’s the way you get your mounts. Work in the morning, ride in the afternoon.  After that he goes back and helps his wife muck stalls and feed. After 30-plus years of marriage, something must be working.   “It ain’t always in life you can find someone you can get along with that well. I’m going to keep her and do everything I can to try and help her.”

Perry Ouzts is a man of few words. He lets his riding do the talking and, with that being the case, he’s said a great deal.   His enthusiasm to get up every morning and give his all is not a common effort found in racing anymore. He’s healthy, he’s happy, and can be a real motivation for the younger riders in the room.  Perry chose to stay close to the people who were loyal to him and he’s loyal to them. That has been a recipe for success he won’t regret.

I watched ride him ride in on his Harley one morning and he greeted me.  I extended my hand and he reached over and gave me a big squeeze with the biggest smile. He asked if I would mind taking a picture of him in front of his motorcycle with his phone.   “Take another one, I’ll send that one to my wife.”  On the way out that day I ran into Perry in the same place. He had two wins that day, and I congratulated him on his victories.  “Ed, I thought I had the third one rounding the turn, but he got a little tired down the lane.”  That’s the stuff that makes him special. He’s appreciated by fans, owners, and trainers, and would rather try twice as hard next time than make an excuse today.  Baseball had Lou Gehrig, the NFL relished the sweetness of Walter Payton, and racing has Perry Ouzts. He isn’t planning on hanging it up anytime soon. In his own words: ” I’m gonna ride this train until they throw me off.”

 

Have You Missed These Gems?

Beat Saratoga – 7 Tips for Turning a Profit

AGOS Horses to Watch – July 18, 2016

Santa Anita Announcer has to Worry about This

 

Jockey Wants a Derby for his Brother

 3yo Races Today on Presidents’ Day

Dreams often start in out-of-the-way places. Take Maurice, La., for example, a place so small it’s not a city or town, but a village. The 2010 census had it at 964 people, up from 642 a decade earlier. It’s also the home to the “world famous” City Bar Maurice and Meaux Sneaux Shack, where their best-ever… [Read more…]