Gulfstream Apprentice Strong Eclipse Candidate
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Edgard Zayas doesn’t shy away from competition; the 20-year-old apprentice jockey, in fact, relishes a hotly contested challenge, particularly on the racetrack at Gulfstream Park.
“When I get in a stretch duel the adrenaline gets higher and higher. I don’t get tired. I just want to beat the other horse and ride my horse as hard as I can. I like to win a race close rather than to win a race by 10. It’s more exciting,” said Zayas, currently atop the jockey’s standings at the Hallandale Beach track. “When you win a close race, you feel like you helped win the race, you helped the horse. It feels better to win a race close and, the same way, it feels worse to lose a race close.”
Come Saturday, Zayas will ride in six of the eight $1 million Sunshine Millions Preview stakes at Gulfstream.
Zayas, who has ridden the winners of 172 races and $3.2 million in purses this year, finds himself in the middle of a heated race for the Eclipse Award as North America’s leading apprentice jockey of 2013. After last weekend’s action, the native of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico held an edge in both races-won and purses-earned over Victor Carrasco (163; $3.1 million) on the Mid-Atlantic circuit, Emmanuel Esquivel (127; $2.6 million) on the Chicago circuit and Manuel Franco (102; $3 million) in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.
“It would be really great to say I won an Eclipse Award. It’s been tough for me because I can only ride three days a week. The other ‘bug’ riders can ride the whole week. So I have to win as many races as I can those three days,” said Zayas, referring to the abbreviated summer/fall schedule in South Florida. “But if it’s for me, I’m going to win it. If not, I’ll keep working hard to win as many races as I can.”
Zayas has devoted himself to hard work to realize a childhood dream of becoming a world-class jockey – a dedication that didn’t go unnoticed by the legendary Angel Cordero last winter. The Hall of Fame jockey took Zayas under his wing and tutored the young apprentice almost daily in the Gulfstream jockey’s room, critiquing and tweaking his riding form on the Equicizer mechanical horse.
“He has a lot of talent and ability,” said Cordero at the time. “I tell him, ‘Not only strive to be a good ‘bug boy’ but to be a good rider, so when you lose your ‘bug’ you can still make a living.’”
Zayas, who is scheduled to lose his five-pound apprentice allowance in December, has taken advantage of Cordero’s expertise and wisdom to further develop his riding style.
“Since when I was working with Cordero, I’ve fixed a lot of things. I look very, very different. When you look from my first race to now, I look really different. I get down into the seat and don’t move that much,” said Zayas, who also received instruction from Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, for whom Cordero serves as agent. “I’m stronger than before and make more intelligent moves than before. Every day, every race, you learn more.”
Zayas has won over the local trainers, who view the 20-year-old as much more of an asset to their horses than merely a five-pound advantage, regularly naming him to ride in stakes without the benefit of the apprentice allowance. No trainer was as quick to pick up on Zayas’ potential as Manny Azpurua.
“Edgard, the first time I saw him riding a horse, I said, ‘He’s going to be one of the best jockeys around,’” the venerable South Florida trainer said.
Zayas, who is riding at a 28-percent win rate at Gulfstream, remains fiercely loyal to Azpurua.
“When I started, he always helped me. Before I got my agent (Tito Fuentes), he was the only big trainer who’d give me horses to ride,” Zayas said. “He gave me my first ride in a stake; he took me to Tampa. Every time, I did something bad in a race, he’d tell me. He still helps me. He’s mentored a lot of people.”
Azpurua, who also provided Zayas with his first stakes winner (Street Girl) back in April, said Zayas possesses the intangibles and talent he saw in the likes of Edgar Prado, Jose Santos, Javier Castellano and Ramon Dominguez over the years as they started out in South Florida.
“It’s a feeling that I can’t explain to you,” Azpurua said. “Maybe it’s because I love the horses and love being around them that I can pick it up and see a good rider. I think Edgard is going to be one of the best riders in the country.”
The progress and success Zayas has achieved is downright remarkable, considering that he hadn’t even sat on a horse until he enrolled in Puerto Rico’s jockey school, Escuela Vocacional Hipica less than three years ago. His dream of becoming a jockey, though, began several years earlier.
“Every week, I’d go with my grandfather and father to the track. I loved watching the horses and jockeys. Every kid who went to that track wanted to be a jockey. When I was 11, my dad bought some horses, so I became a little bit more involved,” said Zayas, whose father, Carlos, owns a beauty salon in Rio Grande. “When I was 16, I wanted to go to the jockey school, but I couldn’t go because my father wanted me to finish school. After I finished school, I went to the jockey school.”
Even before he sat on a horse’s back for the first time at the riding school, Zayas had adopted role models from watching live and simulcast races.
“In Puerto Rico, Juan Carlos Diaz, the leading rider there, is still my favorite jockey. I always watched him ride. What I like about him, every
race, you see him relax the horse,” said Zayas, whose Puerto Rican idol has ridden nearly 3500 winners since 2000. “He always brings the horse from behind, sometimes 20, 30 lengths behind. He’s got great timing. Every time, he gets them at the wire.”
In the U.S., Zayas has marveled at Velazquez’s savvy style.
“He’s a very intelligent rider. I think he’s the most intelligent rider,” he said. “I don’t think he ever makes a mistake.”
Due to a restriction on graduates of the jockey school, who must wait three months before leaving to ride in the U.S., Zayas purposely stopped a few months short of completing the two-year-program in the fall of 2011 and left immediately for South Florida. He finished fifth aboard his first mount, Perfect Cash, on Oct. 28, 2012 and rode his first winner, Five Afternoons, on Nov. 17. After adding five more wins within a week, Zayas was on his way but quickly faced the challenge of riding against the best jockeys in the world at Gulfstream Park from December into April.
“What was good about riding that winter meet was whenever you’d do something wrong, every jockey would try to correct you,” said Zayas, who rode 22 winners during the winter. “I paid attention. It was a good experience.”
Zayas is anxious to show Cordero, Velazquez and others how much his riding skills have developed when Gulfstream’s Championship Meet gets underway on Nov. 30.
“I think I’m going to do really well,” said Zayas, who captured his first Grade 1 stakes with Starship Truffles in the Princess Rooney on July 6. “I’m looking forward to riding with all the best riders again.”
GULFSTREAM PARK is a Stronach Group company, North America’s leading Thoroughbred racetrack owner/operator. The Stronach Group racetracks include Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park & Casino, Golden Gate Fields, Portland Meadows, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, home of the world-famous Preakness. The company owns and operates the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, and is one of North America's top race horse breeders through its award-winning Adena Springs operation. The Stronach Group is one of the world's largest suppliers of pari-mutuel wagering systems, technologies and services. Its companies include AmTote, a global leader in wagering technology; XpressBet, an Internet and telephone account wagering service; and Monarch Content Management, which acts as a simulcast purchase and sales agent of horseracing content for numerous North American racetracks and wagering outlets.The Stronach Group is also a major producer of televised horseracing programming through its HRTV cable and satellite network and is North America's premier supplier of virtual online horseracing games, as well as a leading producer of social media content for the horseracing industry. For more information contact David Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 954.457.6451.