Photo: Don August
For 8 months out of the year, Jesus and Juan Arriaga spend their mornings working thoroughbreds at Golden Gate Fields. Jesus 27, and Juan 23, work for trainers Steve Sherman and Jerry Hollendorfer respectively.
But once the summer fair circuit begins, it’s the Arriaga's time to shine.
The two have spent the last couple of years being the top guns in the mule and quarter horse world as the races go from fair to fair. They have ridden some of the best the bay area has to offer and have won many of the big races. But this summer, the family aspect of the riding brothers took on a new meaning, with the debut of 18-year-old brother Martin.
The youngest, who had anxiously been awaiting his turn to take to the Nor Cal tracks, got in the winners circle in just his 10th mount on a quarter horse named Trans Sonic. Through the summer, he has won four mule races and two quarters. This past Sunday, he earned the highlight of his career winning his first stakes race, The Stockton Dash, on a horse named Sparkin One. Ironically, Sparkin One also won last years race but with brother Jesus in the saddle.
Now if the name Arraiaga sounds familiar to those of you in southern California, it should. The oldest racing brother, Gregorio, is currently the second leading rider at Los Alamitos this season with 72 wins. In fact, the Arriaga family has 6 brothers and 6 sisters.
However no Arriaga story would be complete without the mention of the winningest brother Jose. Today, Jose can be seen each week on the GGF backside playing cards and talking with friends. The fact that he can even do that is a miracle.
From left to right: Juan, Martin, Jesus, and Jose Arriaga
In 2003, a then 25-year old, was ascending to the top of the jockey standings, coming off a second place finish in the 2002 Spring Meet behind Russell Baze with 71 wins. However, early the next season, Arriaga went down in a spill and was kicked in the head by a trailing horse. After undergoing emergency surgery to drain a large blood clot on the right side of his brain, he remained in critical and guarded condition for many days to come. The healing began slow, but his determination to survive the accident was applauded by many. His long journey to recovery can now only be visualized by a scar on his head. If you didn't know what happened to him, you would never know by talking to him.
Although the accident ended his career far too soon, the recovery he has made has been remarkable. He has replaced riding with a wife and child. Racing of course is still in his blood but he now lives it through his four riding brothers.
The aforementioned Martin, Jesus and Juan pulled off a rarity on September 21st, when the three finished in all three trifecta spots in a mule race.
With the ability that Martin has showed, it won’t be long before we have another Arriaga in the jockey standings at Golden Gate Fields.
Speaking of Mules
This summer has been one of excitement for the hottest mule around and I speak of none other than Bar JF Red Ticket. Owned by Don Jacklin or Becky Reimers and trained by Dianna Skinner, "Red" has won 11 of the last 12 races. Red's only loss this year came at Ferndale in the Cream City Mule Handicap when Jet Fuel got the win. The loss ended a 10 race win streak that dated back to last year. But in true champion fashion, the Ticket came back following the loss to register yet another win under jockey Hugo Harrera. Harrera has piloted Red in 7 of the last 8 wins.