Photo: Don August
The Bay Area racing scene has always been known as a place where jockeys can come and try to build, resurrect or continue a career. This summer, three in particular are hoping that is exactly what happens to them.
Ricardo Gonzalez, Eswan Flores and Marcia Stortz all have very different stories behind them but all have one thing in common. They are hoping to make a name for themselves as the summer continues.
Gonzalez may not be an imposing figure walking the backside at 97 pounds, but the 17-year-old apprentice has seen his share of racing in a short time.
Coming from Turf Paradise, Gonzalez won his first race on February 22nd in just his eighth career race. Two days later he won number two and win three came just 17 races after he broke his maiden. A quick start helped the rider build up a strong business, which led to an in the money percentage of 31% in 154 mounts. So far at Pleasanton, he has a seconds and two thirds in just 10 starts.
Before coming to the bay, Gonzalez traveled to New York after the meet ended at Turf Paradise, with the hopes making it back east. He had the agent and mentor all set up, the legendary Angel Cordero. He even had some live calls. The only problem was a visa issue. The native of Sinaloa Mexico was unable to get licensed there because they had issues with his paperwork. Finally after waiting a month, he decided to come back to his current home state of California.
“I worked horses for a few weeks and had some good calls when I was about to start,” Gonzalez aid. “ I was living with my agent and while I was there I learned a lot from him. I just got frustrated waiting. I wanted to ride.”
So the youngster came back and now has decided to try and establish himself in the bay area. Last week, he battled Russell Baze head to head down the stretch in a second place finish, which prompted him to tweet on his twitter account, “ Me and Russell Baze head to head. I got beat by one of the best jockeys of all time. He has only won almost 12,000 races.”
Flores is no stranger to California racing fans. In fact, a year ago, he was one of the hottest apprentice riders in the country down in southern California, finishing fourth in the Santa Anita jockey Standings. But in August of 2012, Flores was forced to take a couple months off to deal with personal issues. When he returned to riding in November, his apprenticeship was gone and he was forced to resume his career as a journeyman. Business was slow to get back.
“Southern California is a tough meet to be in,” Flores said. “Hector Palma gave me a big shot but it was tough.”
After a slow start back, 8 wins in 146 mounts, Flores decided to head for Lone Star Park in Texas and rode well, winning with 8-of-73 mounts with a 36 % in the money ratio. But it just wasn’t home for him and he and his agent returned to California. He then had another choice to make.
“In a business like this you have to make the right decisions and I came up here and so far I like it here. Everyone is real nice. It’s been a little slow getting started but hopefully I can make it my home up here.”
Flores won with a 33-1 longshot North Pacific last week for trainer Len Kasmerski. The win got nice reviews from several local trainers as he battled a strong speed bias to weave through traffic and win with a furious stretch run. He hopes that will jump start his bay area business.
Marcia Stortz truly is a comeback story. The soon to be 36 year old took to the track on opening day of the Pleasanton meet and rode her first race since 2004. Although she raced only a little more than a year back then, she put up good numbers when she did. She started her career in 2003 and won 54 races, riding at tracks in the California, Florida, Kentucky and Philadelphia.
But a knee injury after just 15 mounts in 2004 forced her to stop riding. In those 15 races, she had a win, four seconds and a third.
She went to training jumping horses for a bit but soon became a teacher, a profession her mother was in. She taught third and fifth graders in Santa Clara for the next seven years.
But last summer, she started thinking about riding competitively again and started working horses every weekend this past school year to get fit.
"I had planned to move to Florida to be with my family, and possibly find a teaching job at the end of the summer,” Stortz Said. “ But now I am not so sure. I am enjoying being back, and I think I'm just taking it one day at a time right now.”
So far she has two seconds and two thirds in 12 starts at the meet and can’t wait for that first win.“It will be a thrill,” she said. “I can’t wait."
I have gotten to know all three of these riders over the past few weeks and one thing was evident. All three have a great passion for the sport and all have the talent to give them the results they aim for. Given the chance they look for, I think all will succeed.