Young jockey doing well at Saratoga
Ramon Dominguez may be running away with this year's Saratoga riding title, but a lesser known new jockey in town is making a name for himself as a longshot specialist. YNN's Matt Hunter caught up with apprentice jockey Wilmer Garcia.
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SARATOGA RACE COURSE -- "It's amazing for me. I like what I do. I work hard and I'm here now." apprentice jockey Wilmer Garcia said.
Garcia is loving life now, but it wasn't long ago the 20-year-old was on the outside looking in, struggling to get into Puerto Rico's top jockey school.
Garcia said, "It's tough, you know. There's only one school. I tried to get in for a year, but it was too far to drive."
Two years ago, the Bronx born teen moved back to the United States to live with an aunt in Pennsylvania. Nearby, he hotwalked horses at Penn National and in his free time, taught himself to ride.
"I started galloping and I got a little mad, a little sad because I wanted to be a jockey, not galloping, but then I came over here and I learned and I started galloping by myself," Garcia said.
Earlier this year, Garcia took out his apprentice jockey's license and began riding in New York. Here he faced the daunting task of breaking into one of the world's toughest jockey colonies.
"It's a tough place to break in, especially for the apprentice to come to Saratoga. They don't get a lot of breaks actually, so they've got to do the best they can with what they gave you," John Velazquez said.
As an apprentice jockey, Garcia has what's known in racing terms as "the bug," which means until he wins enough races or a year passes, he gets to carry 10 less pounds than journeyman jockeys, a potentially huge advantage on the track.
Nearly five weeks in, Garcia has already ridden nine winners. Most impressive, they've paid an average of almost $35.
While future success is by no means a guarantee, he seems primed for a long run of success on the tough New York circuit.
John Velazquez said, "I've been trying to advise him little by little and try to teach him a few little things so he doesn't get bad habits to do. He's doing great so far, he's heading in the right direction where he wants to learn and do the right thing."
"It's really exciting and I'm so happy because I didn't think I could do this and come over here and work hard and be here and now I do it by myself," Garcia said.