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Alvarado Riding High into Florida Derby with Mohaymen

Mar 30, 2016
Journeyman Enjoying Ride of His Life Aboard Undefeated Colt

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – At 29, journeyman jockey Junior Alvarado has ridden nearly 1,200 winners, close to three dozen of them in graded stakes, since coming to the United States from his native Venezuela nine winters ago.

Without hesitation, the 5-foot-6 father of two can rattle off his first North American winner, which came Feb. 17, 2007 at Gulfstream Park aboard a maiden 3-year-old filly making her seventh career start. She was first by 7 ½ lengths as the 3-1 favorite.

“Satira,” Alvarado laughed. “I still remember the name of the horse.”

Even more quickly, he has no trouble naming the best horse he has ever ridden, one whose most recent victory also came at Gulfstream: Shadwell Stable’s undefeated multiple Grade 2 winner Mohaymen, whose five career victories have all come with Alvarado aboard.

“Gulfstream is a track that I love. It was where I first started in the United States and I’ve been looking forward to coming for the winter to ride at Gulfstream Park. So far I have been staying in New York, but it's something that is in my mind every winter,” he said. “Now, to be coming for one of the biggest races with a special horse, you can’t get a more exciting and amazing feeling than that.”

Ranked as the leading Triple Crown contender in the country, Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Mohaymen is one of the headliners for the 65th running of the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) along with similarly unbeaten Nyquist, the 2-year-old male champion of 2015.

A gray or roan son of Grade 1 winner Tapit, Mohaymen has already won twice during Gulfstream’s Championship Meet, taking the Holy Bull (G2) Jan. 30 and Fountain of Youth (G2) Feb. 27. A Florida Derby victory would make Mohaymen the first horse since the Holy Bull was first run in 1990 to sweep each of Gulfstream’s three major Triple Crown preps.

“As soon as we won the Fountain of Youth, Kiaran said if he comes out of the race fine we’re going to go to the Florida Derby,” Alvarado said. “At that point I knew Nyquist was coming. It’s exciting. I’m very excited and I’m looking forward to it. I know the ability my horse has and I trust him. I know what kind of horse he is. It will be a nice battle and hopefully we end up winning the race.”

Following in the footsteps of his father, Rafael, a former jockey in Venezuela, Alvarado won his first race there in December 2005 before arriving in South Florida. He spent several successful years on the Midwest circuit, earning his first Grade 1 victory in the 2010 Beverly D, before moving his tack to New York.

Other Grade 1 wins have followed including Emma’s Encore in the 2012 Prioress, the last graded stakes victory for late Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, as well as Moreno in the 2014 Whitney. Both came at Saratoga Race Course.

“I have been able to ride a lot of nice horses but they were already like 4 or 5 years old so they were already in the top form and already mature and they already know what to do. With [Mohaymen], it’s been a very nice experience since the first time I rode him to get to know him and get to feel him keep improving and every race get better and better. It gets me excited and I have big expectations for him. I have to say this horse would have to be the best. He’s the best 3-year-old I ever rode so far.”

Saratoga was also the place where Alvarado and his agent, Weston, Fla. resident Mike Sellitto, first discovered Mohaymen last summer. A tip from McLaughlin’s former longtime assistant, Artie Magnusson, and persistence paid off when Irad Ortiz Jr., the stable’s first-call rider, was committed on Upstart in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) when Mohaymen was ready to debut. 

“Before I got on him we kind of got a little hint about him in Saratoga. We went to Kiaran and we asked him about the horse and he said, ‘We’ll see.’ He wasn’t that close to a race yet. We had an idea that he was a nice horse and he was going to different,” Alvarado said. “I remember the day we got the call. Irad Ortiz is one of Kiaran’s jockeys. He rides a lot of first call for him but he was out of town at the moment. It just happened that it all came together, Mohaymen and me. I can’t even describe with words how exciting it’s been, the whole process, since I rode him the first time.”

Mohaymen was a professional maiden winner in his Sept. 19 unveiling at Belmont Park, going on to victories in the Nashua (G2) and Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack 28 days apart in November to close his juvenile campaign. He was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as 2-year-old male champion behind Nyquist.

“Sometimes we ride horses and we feel them getting better and better, but usually it’s minimal things. But with him, every time he runs it’s like five, six, seven-lengths difference from the race before. I remember when he won the Nashua, I worked him to make sure he learned how to get dirt in the morning in case something happened in the afternoon. I worked him that day and I told Kiaran he was better than the last time he won the stake. It was just a workout, but he runs so fast, so easy. He improves a lot more than a normal horse. He just keeps impressing me every time he runs.”

Mohaymen turned away a Grade 1 winner in Greenpointcrusader to win the Holy Bull by 3 ½ lengths, and was 2 ¼ lengths ahead of highly regarded late-developing colt Zulu in the Fountain of Youth, where he also defeated previously unbeaten Awesome Speed and Awesome Banner and Florida-bred stakes winner Fellowship.

While his Holy Bull trip was uneventful, Mohaymen was able to swing wide of some early bumping in the Fountain of Youth, making a middle move between horses before taking over the top spot and drawing away. 

“If something new is presented to him in a race he handles it fine. He’s so mature already. I’m pretty sure there’s more there. When he ran the first time this year I talked to Kiaran and we wanted to win the race but he didn't want to use him up for the race because our goal is the Derby. If he wins, great, but don’t beat him up to do it. It happened that day that I didn’t hit him at all. He was just cruising along and he won it nice and easy,” Alvarado said.

“It was the same thing last time. I moved him a little bit to engage Zulu by the three-eighths pole and when we turned for home I asked him. I just shook the reins enough for him to give me something but not too much, so I can keep saving it for when I need it and he won very easy that day. He is a pretty push-button horse for me.”

Without a blemish on their record, McLaughlin has had no complaints about the union of horse and rider, and no plans to make any changes.

“It’s great. This horse is a special colt and he does everything right. I’m happy that Junior and him have a great relationship and it’s going well,” he said. “They seem to get along great. I know Junior has a lot of confidence in him and the horse responds to him. They’re a good team, that’s for sure.”

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