Jock’s agent Mike Sellito took Jose Santos to the top (or, perhaps, back to the top). He took Kent Desormeaux to the top (again, back to the top). They are both Hall of Famers and Sellito was, at least somewhat, responsible for their latter-day achievements.
Now, he’s taking Junior Alvarado to the top. The 26-year-old achieved at Arlington Park, winning the 2009 title and the 2010 Beverly D. at the Chicago track, but as far as the big leagues, New York, he’s never been to the top. That will change.
Sellito promised Alvarado he would get his foot (golf cart) in the door (shedrow) of big stables in New York, especially millionaires row of Bill Mott. Sellito has built a friendship and a solid working relationship with the Hall of Famer.
Alvarado listened but was, justifiably, skeptical. Then it happened.
“When my agent said we were going to ride a lot of horses for Billy Mott . . . it’s not easy to get in a big barn and get first call, this is New York, this is not easy,” Alvarado said. “When we started riding for him, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ It’s been working. Just keep going.”
Alvarado and Sellito will see to that.
Alvarado guided Mott-trained Lunar Victory to a dominant win in the Evan Shipman Monday, their fourth win in a row together. The New York-bred could step out of those ranks and become a major factor in the older horse division by season’s end. Of course, Mott will need to travel with the likes of Lunar Victory, Flat Out, To Honor And Serve and Ron The Greek holding pillars under that tent. You can be sure, Alvarado will be involved.
Alvarado followed his dad into a riding career, getting started in his native Venezuela before being pushed to America by his father. He arrived in Florida, traveled to Chicago, dabbled at New York with a stint at Aqueduct.
“Two years ago, I came in the winter, I did pretty good, finished fifth, but I knew I wasn’t ready,” Alvarado said. “I saw how good I was against the best and said, ‘It would not be a good idea to stay’ so I went back to Arlington. I didn’t want to burn myself.”
Alvarado regrouped, won races, honed his skills and came back. This time, with Sellito driving the cart.
Alvarado finished second to Ramon Dominguez in the Aqueduct standings through the end of 2011. Then chased Cornelio Velasquez and Dominguez through April. It was a strong stand, one good enough to convince Alvarado to stick around. He finished fifth at the Belmont Spring Meet, behind Dominguez, Javier Castellano, Jose Lezcano and Rosie Napravnik. Yes, the water gets deeper as you go from Aqueduct to Belmont to Saratoga, but Alvarado is swimming hard.
“I couldn’t have asked for better during winter time. I knew it would get a little bit tougher in Belmont. I still finished fifth in the standings, I won some stakes races, it was even better than I was expecting,” Alvarado said. “Right now, Saratoga is a tough meet. I’ve only won two races so far (plus two more Wednesday), but trainers are putting me on horses, I’m excited. I’m working hard in the mornings, hoping I can get a shot to ride something. This is the big league, they don’t give you any shot here, you have to try 110 percent here.”
That’s not a problem for Alvarado who was meant to be called Rafael Alvarado Jr., after his father but was mistakenly registered as Junior Alvarado at the hospital. The name stuck and the riding ability was handed down.
“My dad was a rider too. I did pretty good as a bug boy in Venezuela but my dad always put it in my mind, ‘You should go to the United States.’ I’m like, ‘I’m doing good here.’ I wasn’t really thirsty,” Alvarado said. “We watched racing from the United States, I was like, ‘Wow, I kind of like it.’ Dad say, ‘Let’s try to do it, maybe we can find some help there, get somebody to sign your paper.’ He was the one with the idea.”
Alvarado calls his dad in Venezuela every day. They talk racing, celebrate his wins, analyze his losses, miss each other.
“I’m still trying to get the papers for him to come here, they’ve denied him two times, I pay everything, sign everything, just to stay for a visit, they make it tough,” Alvarado said. “I went home for a week with my son last year and that was nice but, yeah, it’s tough to not have him here.”
As for Saratoga 2012, Alvarado just wants to leave with a better memory than last year when he came here to ride Top Surprize in a claimer for Arlington-based Larry Rivelli. Sent off favorite in the mile turf race, Top Surprize reached the front too soon and was caught late.
It still hurts.
“It wasn’t a good ride, I made a really quick move and they got me right on the wire, I didn’t know the track. Those things make you learn,” Alvarado said. “I was upset with myself, I couldn’t get that thing out of my mind, I was like, ‘I’m not ready for this.’ I knew it.”
A year later, he has four wins on the docket, including a stakes. He’s not going back to Arlington Park.