The past three Eclipse Awards for outstanding jockey have gone to Ramon Dominguez. Unfortunately for him, there won’t be a fourth.
Dominguez retired in June due to head injuries suffered from a spill.
So which national jockey appears poised to pick up the baton from Dominguez? For me, the answer is simple: Joel Rosario.
Rosario put on a riding exhibition on opening day of Del Mar with four winners. And it’s not true that the Del Mar jockeys took up a collection to buy him a one-way plane ticket back to New York. Rosario’s been riding like this all year long.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Rosario is leading the nation in purses earned with $13.4 million and winners with 196. Fellow New York rider Javier Castellano is his closest pursuer. Both will be riding daily at the Saratoga meet that begins today.
The 28-year-old Rosario already has won two of racing’s biggest prizes this year, the Dubai World Cup on Animal Kingdom and the Kentucky Derby on Orb. I suspect the best is yet to come. Give him good horses to ride in the two-day Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, and look out.
The trajectory of his career has been easy to follow. For a few years, Rosario tussled head and head with Russell Baze in Northern California. Then he moved to Southern California and soon became co-leading rider there with Rafael Bejarano.
In June 2012, Rosario moved to New York hoping to take his career to the highest level.
The moves haven’t come without controversy. Vic Stauffer, the jockey agent, brought Rosario to Southern California. Stauffer then was replaced by Ronnie Ebanks, who took the jockey to New York.
Within two months, Ebanks was sacked in favor of Ron Anderson.
Divorces like these seldom are clean. However, Anderson is the Phil Jackson of jockey agents. His roster of past riders includes Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens, Kent Desormeaux and the late Chris Antley.
After one year together, Anderson and Rosario won races such as the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup.
Ralph Siraco of “Race Day Las Vegas” compares Rosario to a young Laffit Pincay Jr. Their riding style is not so much stick work but using sheer strength to cajole a horse to the wire.
For the uninitiated, watch Rosario today finish on a horse using his hands, arms and upper body. I appreciate the style because most racehorses already are giving you their all. The key here is the jockey becomes one with the horse, helping him keep going and not beating him with a whip.
As a handicapper, most rider changes don’t mean much to me. But when I see Rosario named on a horse for the first time, I will take notice.
■ GOLD COAST SUMMER CLASSIC — This prestigious three-day handicapping tournament starts Thursday at the Gold Coast. Entry fee is $400.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.