Reyes’ Patience, Quiet Confidence Paying Off at Gulfstream
Former Venezuelan Champion Rider Has Never Looked Back
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Soft-spoken with an unassuming manner, Leonel Reyes has steadily established himself as one of Gulfstream Park’s most respected jockeys while still managing somehow to ride under the radar of some horsemen and racing fans.
The 36-year-old jockey had a much higher profile in his native Venezuela, where he was a two-time national champion before venturing to the U.S. in 2016. He arrived in South Florida with little fanfare and has had to prove himself, quietly and steadily, as a solid member of the Gulfstream Park jockey’s room.
“When you move to another country, it’s difficult in the beginning,” said Reyes, who was a nine-time titlist at National Racetrack Valencia while riding more than 1400 winners in Venezuela. “Now, I’m happy here.”
Although it wasn’t easy to make a fresh start in the U.S. after reaching such lofty heights in Venezuela, Reyes has never looked back in his quest to build a better life for his family, his wife Daniela, and daughters Leona (12), Donna (9) and Lea (1 ½).
While learning the English language, Reyes let his riding speak to his abundant talent, showing himself to be an astute judge of pace when riding closers and front-runners. His win-rate hovered around 10 percent for the first few years in the U.S. – a figure that includes four months riding against the best riders in the world during Gulfstream’s Championship Meet – but he has regularly ranked among the top jockeys based on average-win payoff.
“I ride here at Gulfstream all year and, naturally, the winter meet is a very good meet,” he said. “I try my best on every mount. I don’t care if I’m on the favorite or not.”
Reyes’ patience and quiet confidence in his abilities are paying off in 2022, during which he has ridden the winners of 128 races and nearly $4.5 million in purses. He branched out from South Florida for the first time during the summer months, riding at Gulfstream’s Royal Palm Meet and Colonial Downs in Virginia. He ranked second during both meetings while finishing behind Miguel Vasquez with 85 winners at Gulfstream and introducing himself to the Mid-Atlantic with 18 winners, seven behind titlist Jevian Toledo.
“It’s been an amazing year. It’s a dream. I had a good year at Colonial Downs. I finished second. Here, it’s been amazing too,” said Reyes, who expressed appreciation for his long-time agent, Jose Sanchez. “I’m very happy.”
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher named Reyes to ride his first starter of the current Sunshine Meet, and the low-profile jockey gave Hoax a high-energy ride to prevail aboard the juvenile daughter of Practical Joke by a nose in an Oct. 7 optional claiming allowance.
“Mr. Pletcher is a great, great trainer,” Reyes said. “I was very happy to win that race for him.”
Reyes hasn’t made it to the top of the jockey’s standings at Gulfstream quite yet but his heightened success in 2022 has him feeling on top of the world.
Reyes is named in eight of nine races when Gulfstream resumes live racing Friday with a 12:35 p.m. first race post.