Edgar Prado leaned on the wooden rail outside Bobby Frankel’s barn Tuesday morning and asked the simple question.
“Who are you rooting for in the jockey race?” Prado asked.
First you have to look at the standings. Table’s cleared and set. Six cards left and it’s tied. John Velazquez and Alan Garcia stand at the top with 30 wins. Prado lies in wait, third with 26 victories. Comeback kid Ramon Dominguez has clawed his way to fourth with 25 wins. Defending champion Cornelio Velasquez owns a quiet 23 wins while Eibar Coa stands as the last man within a glimmer, eight wins behind the leaders.
That was Tuesday.
By Wednesday evening, Garcia had dispatched Velazquez at the top. The 22-year-old Peruvian won three races Wednesday; riding the rising tide of leading trainer Kiaran McLaughlin who dropped in Grade II stakes winner Stream Of Gold for a $60,000 claiming price and unleashed another rapid first-time starter in Majestic Blue. Garcia picked up his third victory of the day for Howie Tesher. Dominguez picked up one while the others were blanked.
But don’t count anybody out. Not just yet.
Velazquez has experience on his side. He’s won it before. Three times to be exact.
Garcia counts inexperience on his side. He’s never been here before and sometimes that works in your favor.
Prado has three Saratoga titles and rides without a worry.
Dominguez, Velasquez and Coa have put together stellar meets but need miracles to contend with Garcia, Velazquez or Prado.
Right now, they’re all chasing Garcia.
Steered by agent Tony Micallef, Garcia has arrived. He’s humble, he’s happy, he rides hard and he’s here to stay.
“I’m so happy, so content,” Garcia said earlier in the meet. “My agent is doing a good job, we’re working hard to stay here at Saratoga with the leading jockeys. These are the best jockeys in the world. You can keep going down the list, Hall of Famer Prado, Kent Desormeaux win the Kentucky Derby, Javier Castellano win a lot of good races, Ramon, Johnny Velazquez win a couple of Eclipse Awards, Albarado win the Dubai Cup and rides the best horse in the world. I’m a young guy, to be in with these guys, I’m so happy and so proud. My agent does an excellent job securing the mounts and I do the second part, trying to ride winners.”
Garcia won 21 races at Saratoga last summer, and that was a huge meet. This year he’s eclipsed that mark and pasted a 5-win stamp on Travers Day. Yes, Travers Day. He won the King’s Bishop with a cool ride on Visionaire. And he won his second straight Bernard Baruch with Shakis.
“Everybody has goal to be leading jockey in Saratoga. It’s my goal too, but first I want to be happy, keep the trainers happy. There’s no pressure, when I make a mistake I forget about it. I try to ride good horses and keep smiling,” Garcia said. “The only goal I have is to make the trainers happy and make myself happy. I don’t want to be making my head big thinking about winning a title. The more I do that, the more I get nervous and make mistakes. I’m not trying to be leading rider, I’m just trying to make the trainers happy and win races.”
For now, Garcia doesn’t need advice, doesn’t need to be reminded of all the phenoms who had the racing world by the scruff, only to fall into oblivion. But if he needs advice, Dominguez and Velazquez would be good places to start. Dominguez went 1-for-38 to start the meet. Velazquez hit the ground six times in the first 10 days of last year’s Saratoga meet. They’re both back near the top of the standings, with perspective riding shotgun.
“I find the time when my riding’s going the best and things are clicking in place, I open the program up and see it so clear, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’ A lot of times that’s the way it happens,” Dominguez said. “Other times, when you really want to make sure this doesn’t happen or this guy doesn’t keep you in here, you start riding defensively and things tend to go the opposite. I’m not saying you should go out there with no plan, but at the same time you have to let things fall into place and not go by what you think should happen versus what is really happening. If that makes any sense.”
Certainly for Velazquez.
“It’s a tough business. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, you’ve got to roll with it. It’s hard, you’re always competing. If someone says they don’t care, they’re lying to you let me tell you. It’s not that easy,” Velazquez said. “You’re under a microscope all the time, everybody’s watching you. Sometimes I can brush it off, but I’m hard on myself. I like to learn every year, I like to be competitive up here every year. Because I care. This is what I chose to do, this is what I thrive to be. To ride good horses, to be at a competitive level that you’re proud of, because you’ve got to be proud of yourself, when you have the highs you’ve got to enjoy them. When you have the lows, you’ve got to swallow them and keep going. They’re hard to swallow.”
As for Prado, he was reminded that he was only four back, at least on Tuesday.
“I need to get going,” Prado said.