Apprentice jockey Victor Carrasco celebrates after a win at Laurel Park. (Photo courtesy of Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)
Central Maryland in the middle of a snowy December is a world away from Puerto Rico, but apprentice jockey Victor Carrasco is adjusting just fine both on and off the racetrack.
The 21-year-old rider proved a quick learner in the saddle, and his career really took off when he shifted from Florida to the East Coast in March. Carrasco led all apprentice riders, or bugs as they often are called, by victories in 2013 with 215. Carrasco is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice, and he's is enjoying the ride, snow and all.
“I’m going out with [fellow apprentice] Jevian Toledo - we are roommates - I was out with him watching the snow, like little kids,” Carrasco said. “It’s cold.”
JOCKEY WORLD RACING TERM: APPRENTICE
From a family of horsemen – Carrasco’s grandfather and uncle both train horses in Puerto Rico – Victor said he was always drawn to the sport and knew early on what he wanted to do with his life.
“When I was young, my grandfather and my uncle were trainers in Puerto Rico. I visited them in the summer, on Saturdays, winter, Christmas,” he said. “When I was off of school, when I didn’t have classes, I was going to the racetrack.
“All the time that I saw my grandfather working with horses, I said, ‘I don’t want to be a trainer; I want to be a jockey.’ I don’t know, I think I’ve got this in the blood.”
Carrasco got his early racing education from working around the horses for his family and later attended jockey school in Puerto Rico. It was there, on Jan. 4, that he earned his first career win at Camarero Race Track aboard Wonder Abu, a horse trained by his uncle Victor Carrasco Jr.
Florida was the next step for Victor, and he banked his first win in the U.S. at Tampa Bay Downs on March 23 for trainer Charles Harvatt. He is grateful to Harvatt and Dennis Ward in Florida for their help, but things were not going quite as well as he had hoped. When trainer Juan Vazquez called and suggested he come to the East Coast for the experience and promised him some steady mounts on his horses, Carrasco took the chance and made the most his opportunity.
Carrasco missed winning the jockey’s title at the May to October Delaware Park meeting by a single win. He finished with 90 victories from 387 starts. He’s leading the current Laurel Park meet with 58 wins and is also riding some nights at Penn National Race Course.
Carrasco’s success has put him in position to earn the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice. He was quick to credit his agent, Tom Stift, who books his mounts for him as well as Vazquez for his success.
“That’s the dream for all bug riders,” Carrasco said of winning the Eclipse Award.
Stift said Carrasco shows incredible patience in races for a young jockey, but the agent said it is his love of horses and tireless work ethic that have been most important.
“That’s the key to success; he works every day and never takes a day off,” Stift said. “He just loves horses. He's been like that from day one. Even days I tell him to take a day off, I’ll pull through the gate in the morning and he's already up on a horse.”
Stift also said Carrasco is always looking for any way to improve his craft.
“He learns,” Stift said. “He’s smart. He watches other riders and he takes advice.”
Local riders such as Luis Garcia at Tampa and Carlos Marquez Jr., Julien Pimentel, Kendrick Carmouche and Roberto Rosado on the East Coast also have helped Carrasco make the transition. His roommate Toledo, 19, also is a Puerto Rico native.
“The first three months I only won 12 races and I didn’t think I had any chance to win that,” Carrasco said of the Eclipse Award. “But now, when the mounts started coming and I kept winning and winning, now I know I have a real chance to win and I’m feeling awesome.”
Carrasco is surrounded in Maryland by a talented group of apprentice riders that includes Trevor McCarthy (140 wins in 2013), Toledo (128 wins) and Chelsey Keiser (64 wins). Maryland-based jockeys have won nine of the 42 Eclipse Awards for outstanding apprentice and there is a very good shot this year’s winner will come from this group.
STRONG GROUP OF APPRENTICES AT LAUREL
From left to right: Trevor McCarthy, Chelsey Keiser, Victor Carrasco, Jevian Toledo. (Photo courtesy of Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)
Carrasco is adapting well to life on the East Coast. He drives a maroon, 2008 Pontiac that he was sure to point out had a V6 engine. An avid basketball fan, Carrasco enjoyed playing the sport when he was in Puerto Rico but with a jam-packed schedule he says his down time is spent resting. He likes to watch the top riders on the New York circuit on TVG and also said he never misses a Denzel Washington flick.
He flew home to Puerto Rico on Dec. 22 to visit family, which served as a reminder of how far he has come in such a short time. Of course, there is still plenty left to accomplish.
“Win a race in the Triple Crown – that’s a dream for all jockeys,” said Carrasco, also the leading apprentice by purse earnings with more than $4-million. “Not even winning, just riding in the Triple Crown is a dream for all jockeys.”