Lezcano Continues Winning Ways at Gulfstream Park
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Jose Lezcano didn’t need to wait for more than a single race to achieve success at Gulfstream Park, having won aboard his very first mount in the U.S. at the world class thoroughbred meeting in April 2004.
The Panama native has become a frequent visitor to Gulfstream Park’s winner’s circle over the years while joining the ranks of the country’s riding elite. Coming off a career 2011 campaign, during which he rode champion Royal Delta to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and his mounts earned $10.7 million, Lezcano is again making the most of his opportunities at Gulfstream.
The 26-year-old journeyman, who trails Javier Castellano and two-time defending titlist Paco Lopez in races-won, leads all Gulfstream riding regulars with a win rate of nearly 25 percent.
Lezcano is just another success story of the Laffit Pincay Jockey School, which has produced so many jockeys have become riding superstars in the U.S. However, riding horses was not a career goal for Lezcano while growing up on his family’s cattle farm in the Panama countryside.
“I lived outside the city in Panama but I moved to the city to go to the school. When I was little I wanted to be a lawyer. When I moved to the city, I wanted to go to college,” he said. “One day I went to the races, and I never went back. I stayed at the racetrack.”
After enrolling in and subsequently graduation from the jockey school, Lezcano rode briefly in Panama.
“I rode in Panama for six months then I stopped riding and stayed home for about a year until I got a visa to come here. I wanted to come to the USA,” he said. “When I was in Panama, I watched the races on TV and watched John Velazquez ride and Patrick Valenzuela ride in California. I wanted to come here and meet them.”
After his quick start at Gulfstream, Lezcano became very successful while splitting his time between Tampa Bay Downs and New Jersey for the next few years. After riding 287 winners, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champion Maram, in 2008, Lezcano captured the 2009 Gulfstream Park riding title with 71 trips to the winner’s circle. He has ranked in the Top 5 riders at Gulfstream in subsequent years while riding regularly for many high-profile trainers, including Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the trainer of Royal Delta.
“She’s not a very easy filly to ride, but she is a really good filly. She’s the best filly I’ve ever ridden,” Lezcano said. “You have to let her do what she wants to do. It’s not like you can look for your position. You just have to let her run her race.”
Having become familiar with Royal Delta during the 2011 season, in which she captured the Black-Eyed-Susan (G2) and the Alabama (G1), Lezcano resisted the temptation to alter her running style in the Ladies’ Classic under less-than-ideal conditions.
“The pace was very slow, but I didn’t want to make a move early because I didn’t want to take her out of her stride. When I asked her, she really exploded,” said Lezcano, whose mount clinched the 2011 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award title with a dominating 2 ½ -length score.
Having tasted success in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Lezcano is hoping to realize every jockey’s dream of winning the Kentucky Derby. He came close in 2010, when he rode Ice Box to victory in the Florida Derby (G1) before a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. However, Lezcano, who has ridden the winners of more than 1500 races and $58 million in purses, has yet to secure a mount aboard a prominent Derby hopeful this year.
“That’s a good thing about riding at Gulfstream, you can have nothing until the last minute and pick up a horse for the Florida Derby and win and go to the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “That’s what happened with Ice Box. That year, I had nothing and picked up that horse the last minute.”