would really rather be part of it than one step
removed. Rather be on the inside of the Del Mar jockey colony looking
out, than the outside looking in, a Hall of Fame rider providing an
Impending full knee replacement surgery, from which he intends to
recover and ride again, has sidelined Stevens. But it’s put him in a
unique position to ponder and give an objective assessment of a 2014
jockey group that is an intriguing mix of young, old, established and
rising, in terms of both age and Del Mar experience.
“It’s a great colony,” Stevens said.
There are Stevens’ fellow Hall of Famers, Mike Smith and Kent
Desormeaux. Smith being Del Mar’s money rider of the 21st Century with
41 stakes wins here since moving to California from New York in 2001.
Desormeaux having returned to the track of his 62 stakes victories from
1991 to 2004, but where he hasn’t ridden regularly since 2005.
There are track veterans Corey Nakatani, Victor Espinoza and Rafael
Bejarano. Nakatani needing one stakes victory for an even 100 at Del
Mar, second only to Chris McCarron’s 134. Espinoza coming off
significant career wins aboard California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby
and Preakness. Bejarano coming back from injury seeking a third
straight Del Mar riding title.
There are accomplished veterans elsewhere, but rookies at Del Mar,
Stewart Elliott, Elvis Trujillo and Tiago Pereira. Elliott won the
Kentucky Derby and Preakness aboard Smarty Jones in 2004 and has more
than 4,500 career wins. Trujillo, a graduate of the Laffit Pincay, Jr.
Jockey School in his native Panama, has won riding titles at Calder in
Florida and Monmouth Park in New Jersey and a Breeders‘ Cup race.
Pereira has been riding professionally for 10 years, first in his native
Brazil, and has more than 2,000 victories. His biggest was aboard
Brazilian champion Gloria De Campeao in the $10 million Dubai World Cup
There’s a group of still young and restless-to-win riders --Martin
Garcia, 29, Mario Gutierrez, 27, Joe Talamo, 24, Tyler Baze and Edwin
Maldonado, both 31. Garcia and Gutierrez have Triple Crown wins on their
resumes: Garcia aboard Lookin At Lucky in the 2010 Preakness, Gutierrez
the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012 on I’ll Have Another. Talamo
is fresh from his first Southern California meet riding title, earned
with 43 wins at the 2014 Santa Anita spring/summer session. Baze, the
Eclipse Award winner in the apprentice jockey category in 2000, ranks 17th
in the country in money earnings for 2014 with his horses accounting
for more than $4.4 million. Maldonado had a breakout year in 2012,
winning two Southern California circuit riding titles, and is No. 37
nationally for 2014 with earnings of more than $2.8 million.
And in his own separate category is apprentice Drayden Van Dyke,
only 19, and fresh off winning the riding title at the brief Los
Alamitos summer meeting.
“The young guys are fortunate to have Hall of Fame riders and
veterans around. It’s a great asset for them to learn from and
develop,” Stevens said.“Trujillo and Elliott are great additions to the
colony. Drayden Van Dyke listens and does the right things that, if he
stays with it, are going to take him a long ways. He hasn’t nearly begun
to tap his full potential.”
Nobody’s happier with the return of Desormeaux to Del Mar than
trainer R.B. Hess, Jr. The pair were a powerful combination in the 1990s
at Del Mar as Desormeaux won three riding titles and Hess two training
titles, the 1992 honors in tandem.
“In my opinion Kent coming back to the West Coast is a win-win for
horse racing and for Kent,” Hess said. “What Kent does for me as a
trainer is he tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear and I
can use that to do what’s best for my horses and my clients.”
Nakatani made a midwestern foray in 2011-12, but returned last year
to add two more stakes victories to his total. “I think it’s a
legitimate goal,” Nakatani said of the quest to catch McCarron. “I’ll
keep working hard to get the good horses that I’ll need to do it.”
The veteran newcomers wasted no time in making their presence felt.
Pereira won the first race of the meeting-- aboard Brazilian-bred Hawk’s
Eyes for Brazilian-born trainer A.C. Avila.
“Winning the Dubai World Cup was unique.” Pereira said. “Winning the
first race at Del Mar on opening day on my very first ride over the
track was very exciting and gratifying because I had always dreamed of
riding and winning a race at Del Mar.”
Elliott’s presence at Del Mar ties in with that of first-year trainer
Mark Casse. The two were a successful combination at Keeneland last
spring with Casse being the leading trainer and Elliott the
It didn’t take Elliott long to have a Del Mar Moment. He guided Know
Plans for trainer Barry Abrams to a $52.20 upset in the sixth race on
opening day in his first mount at Del Mar.
“I can’t believe how beautiful this place is,” Elliott said afterward. “You really have to see it to believe it.”
A year ago, Van Dyke saw Del Mar partly from the end of a pitchfork
as a stable hand for trainer Tom Proctor. Van Dyke, a Louisville-born
son of a jockey, polished his riding skills under Tom Proctor’s brother,
Hap, at Glen Hill Farm in Ocala, FL and only began riding
professionally late last fall.
“Drayden has done it all on his own,” Tom Proctor said. “He’s done
everything that’s been asked, jumped through every hoop. If he keeps
progressing, he’s got a shot to be a major player in this game.”
The Del Mar riding title hasn’t been won by an apprentice since
Eclipse Award winner Steve Valdez in 1973. Some on the backstretch say
Van Dyke could do it.
But then, it won’t be easy. There’s all that talent, in a fascinating, competitive mix.