One of the top Caribbean jockeys, Jamaican-born Rajiv Maragh, rides Irish War Cry on the outside at the Kentucky Derby on May 6, 2017. (Jason Szenes image)
By NAN Sports Editor
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. May 12, 2017: It’s officially horse racing season with the kick-off of the Kentucky Derby last weekend and the Preakness Stakes is coming up on May 20, 2107. There are several top jockeys from the Caribbean who are riders in these races. Here are 8 you should know:
Rajiv Maragh, 31, is a Kingston, Jamaica-born jockey, who relocated with his family at age 13 to Florida where he began a career as a horse trainer. Maragh rode his first winner at Tampa Bay Downs on February 1, 2004. He got his big break in 2008 when he was 14th in the national earnings list. He was seriously injured in a spill at Belmont Park in July 2015 but after a lengthy 16-month recovery, bounced back to ride again. On Sat, May 6th he rode in the 2017 Kentucky Derby on Irish War Cry. His 2017 earnigns are put at $3,422,503. Maragh’s father, Collin, was a jockey in his native Jamaica and is now a trainer in South Florida, and his brother, Shamir, began his career as a jockey in 2010.
Shaun Xavier Bridgmohan, 38, was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica. When he was 13, his family moved to South Florida where he developed an interest in horse racing. Before becoming a jockey, and while still in school, he worked at a Florida racetrack as a hot walker, groom, and as an exercise rider. After graduating from high school he pursued a riding career and in August 1997 earned his first win at Calder Race Course. Six months later on February 15, 1998 he won six races on a single card at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York, finishing 1998, which was his breakout year, as the winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. On December 22, 2007 he again won six races on a single card, this time at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Louisiana. On April 1, 2017 he recorded his 3,000th win. His earnings are put at $1,267,533.
Joel Rosario, 32, was born in the Dominican Republic. In the space of five weeks in 2013 he rode the winners of the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby. On December 11, 2009, Rosario equaled a Hollywood Park Racetrack record when he won six races on a single race card. Previously, the feat had been achieved by Hall of Fame jockeys Bill Shoemaker (1953, 1970), Laffit Pincay, Jr. (1968), and Kent Desormeaux (1992). On March 30, 2013 Rosario won the world’s richest horse race, the USD10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, aboard the US-based stallion Animal Kingdom. The same year, on May 4, 2013, he won the Kentucky Derby aboard the colt Orb. In 2014, he won the Belmont Stakes on Tonalist. In April 2015, he surpassed 2,000 career wins. His earnings are put at around $5,333,061.
John R. Velazquez
John Velazquez is the winner of the 2017 Kentucky Derby on the horse Always Dreaming. Velazquez, nicknamed “Johnny V,” was born in Carolina in the Caribbean, US territory of Puerto Rico. He learned to ride in his native land and attended a jockey school for a year and a half. In 1990, he won his first race, aboard Rodas at El Nuevo Comandante racetrack in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico and later that year moved to New York State and obtained guidance from leading jockey Angel Cordero Jr. Richie.
Velazquez initially lived with Cordero and later said that he learned to speak English by watching The Little Mermaid with Cordero’s daughter for 2 1⁄2 months. In 1998, Cordero became his agent. His first US stake was won in 1990 at the Aqueduct Racetrack. In 2004, Velazquez earned his 3,000th win aboard Runningforpresident on July 29 at Saratoga, the same date that Saratoga was holding “John Velazquez Bobblehead Doll Day.” But on April 20, 2006, Velazquez was seriously injured in a fall at Keeneland racetrack, suffering a fractured shoulder blade, two broken ribs, a bruised sternum and a slightly injured right lung. He was originally expected to miss five months, but was able to return for the Belmont Stakes in June, in which he finished second.Later that year, he was elected to the Puerto Rico Horse Racing Hall of Fame. In 2009, Velazquez was awarded the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award by his fellow jockeys in recognition of his career and personal character. At that time, he had already earned 24 racing titles at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.
Velazquez recently made headlines when he became the highest paid jockey of all time, breaking the record held by retired American jockey, Pat Day. He is the first rider to ever eclipse $300 million in earnings, due to his victorious race at the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes on We Miss Arlie. According to What Net Worth, Velazquez makes about $2 million each month. To date, he’s ridden for more than 5,000 winners.
Velazquez, 46, is married to Leona O’Brien, daughter of Trainer Leo O’Brien and they have two children: a daughter named Lerina, and a son, Michael Patrick. The win on Saturday May 6, 2017 was Velazquez’s second Derby win. He also won the Derby on May 7, 2011 and is known for his cool riding manner and “nerves-of-steel.” His earnings are put at $7,944,792.
Jose Ortiz was born in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. Ortiz and his brother, Irad, made headlines on January 20, 2013 when they won the first seven races on Aqueduct’s card with Jose earning three of the wins. Ortiz was the regular rider of 2014 Kentucky Derby contender Samraat. Later that year, Ortiz was aboard Upstart for a third place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and won the Holy Bull on the colt as they made their way down the Triple Crown trail. In 2015, Ortiz ranked fourth among all jockeys by purse earnings with $17,324,023 and seventh by victories with 244. He had already eclipsed both figures the following year by the time the 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships rolled around, and he earned his first career Breeders’ Cup win when he guided Oscar Performance to victory in the Juvenile Turf. On Saturday, May 6, 2017, he was second in the 2017 Kentucky Derby .
Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Irad Ortiz, the brother of Jose, was born in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico as well. He is a graduate of that country’s Escuela Vocacional Hípica, a school for prospective jockeys. His grandfather, also named Irad Ortiz, was a jockey, and so is his uncle, Ivan Ortiz. Irad Ortiz has found great success since moving to the states to ride, and in 2013 had a mount in the Belmont Stakes aboard Incognito, a Kiaran McLaughlin trainee taking a large set up in class for the Triple Crown race. In 2014, Ortiz had a career-best year when winning 15 graded stakes races. His highlights were two Grade 1 victories on Sweet Reason and the season was topped off with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Lady Eli, his first Breeders’ Cup victory. In 2015 he piloted Lady Eli to victory in each of her first three races including the Grade 1, $1-million Belmont Oaks Invitational. The same year he won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Stephanie’s Kitten. Ortiz earned a second mount in the Belmont Stakes in 2016, and he won his first American classic race when capturing the Belmont aboard Creator in a well-timed ride. His earnings are put at $5,387,274.
Manuel Franco was also born in Puerto Rico. His first love was baseball but he was told that he was “too small” for the game. Instead, he enrolled in the Puerto Rico Vocational Jockey School for two years and then moved to New York where he enjoyed almost instant success. He began his career in New York in 2013, picking up 57 wins and $2,975,310 in earnings. In 2014 and 2015 he doubled his starts and quadrupled his earnings, while gaining recognition amongst the sport’s top trainers. His earnings is put at $3,742,215.
Also born in Puerto Rico is Victor Carrasco. Born into a family of horsemen, Carrasco grew up around the racetrack. His grandfather and uncle, both trainers, would take him along during summer vacation and put him to work, hot walking horses and cleaning stalls. Carrasco graduated high school before enrolling at Escuela Vocacional Hipica, Puerto Rico’s state-run jockey school. His class of 12 included Edgard Zayas and Franco – the other Eclipse Award finalists during Carrasco’s championship year, when he led all apprentices with 215 wins and Toledo, Maryland’s leading rider in 2015. His earnings is put at $953,059.
Meanwhile, the Jamaican owned horse, Green Gratto finished fourth Sunday in the Diablo Stakes at Belmont Park in NYC. Green Gratto is owned by Jamaican nationals Gaston Grant and his brother Anthony. Gaston Grant serves as the horse’s trainer — a labor of love that he juggles with his full-time job as a driver for UPS.