By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Thrust into thoroughbred world’s spotlight by his winning associations with Invasor and Jazil during a breakout 2006 racing season, Fernando Jara seemingly had nowhere to go but up.
The jockey who flawlessly guided Invasor through an undefeated Horse of the Year campaign and rode Jazil to victory in the Belmont Stakes (G1) at the tender age of 18 was certainly on the fast track to fame and glory.
Success came early for the Panama native. Too early.
Jara went on to capture the Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream and the $6 million Dubai World Cup (G1) aboard Invasor in early 2007, but his fortunes took a decided downturn to relative obscurity soon after.
“It was because I was too young. That’s what I think. I stopped working. Sometimes I wouldn’t go out to the track in the mornings,” Jara said. “I would like to get that time back, go back and change all the things that I did wrong.”
Ever since his sensational run with the pair of Kiaran McLaughlin-trained stars, Jara has bounced around the country and the world to find himself and his way back to riding success. The 23-year-old native of Herrera, Panama recently joined the riding colony at Gulfstream Park, hoping to build a life for his family and rebuild his career in South Florida.
“I’m still not used to being out of my country, I don’t know why. It’s probably because my family is there,” said Jara, who plans to settle locally with his wife, Jennifer, and his son, Ian, who will turn 2 this month. “Now, I have a family, and here… it’s similar to my country The weather is warm. It makes me feel more at home.”
Jara, who will be represented by agent Tito Fuentes, is looking forward to restoring stability to his life after taking many turns since his business took a precipitous drop in New York in 2007. Deciding to make a change, he ventured to California, hoping that his high-profile successes with Invasor and Jazil would translate into better opportunities. Unfortunately, he hardly became a hot commodity.
“When things started picking up a little bit, I got in an accident and broke my collarbone. I was out for two months. I went back to Panama to recover,” he said. “When I was ready, I was with family and I said I was going to stay two more months, and I ended up staying for the whole year in Panama.”
During his year in Panama, he was able to take stock of his career’s meteoric rise and fall.
“I had a chance to think about the things I did bad and the things I did good. I think it was good for me. From winning all those big races and to go down like this,” said Jara, his raised hand dropping down to demonstrate his decline within the racing industry. “It messed with me. When I went to Panama, I didn’t have that hunger to win, and I got that back.”
Jara rode with success in Panama in 2008 before getting another boost from McLaughlin, who set him up to ride in Dubai in 2009. He topped the jockey standings in Dubai before returning to the U.S. to ride in Chicago for a few months and subsequently heading back to Panama to sort out visa issues. He returned to ride at the Delaware Park meeting during a 2010 racing season that produced 71 winning rides, the most in the U.S. since he visited the winner’s circle 87 times.
When Delaware closed last fall, Jara moved on to Aqueduct for the winter with only moderate success, precipitating his decision to head for South Florida.
Although his career hadn’t taken off as many in the racing industry had expected, Jara is still very appreciative of the opportunities McLaughlin gave him to reach such amazing heights at such a young age.
Jara rode Invasor to six straight victories in the Suburban (G1), Whitney (G1), Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Donn and Dubai World Cup.
“He was something special,” Jara said. “I hope I can ride another one like him, but I think it’s going to be hard to find another one like that. He was a special horse.”
His victory aboard Jazil in the Belmont Stakes realized a childhood dream.
“I still can’t believe it. I always say it was a dream come true for me… and every jockey. I used to watch those races since I was 7-years old, and I’d say, ‘One day, I’m going to be there.’ But I didn’t know it would come that quick,” he said. “I was lucky, I’m very thankful for Kiaran to give me the opportunity.”
While his immediate goal is to establish himself as a successful jockey in South Florida, his long-range goal is the same as those of most jockeys.
“Everybody wants to win a Kentucky Derby. I’m going to go for it and work hard,” he said. “I’m just going to try to do well, nothing else, and start to win races.”