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Saratoga and Del Mar 2017

Maldonado Poised to Take BHP Riding Title

Hollywood Park logo.
Photo: Hollywood Park
A year ago, few knew who Edwin Maldonado was.  Now, with 11 races left in the Betfair Hollywood Park Autumn meeting, the native of San Juan, Puerto Rico is on the verge of capturing his first major Southern California riding crown.
Maldonado, who turned Dec. 1, has 25 winners, three more than Rafael Bejarano heading into the closing day program.
Maldonado and his agent, Vic Lipton, present a tale of redemption fit for the holiday season. 
As is the story of most “overnight sensations,” Maldonado actually began riding in 2002.  He got his first victory in August of that year at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Canada before becoming a regular on the Louisiana circuit (Delta Downs, Evangeline Downs, Louisiana Downs, Fair Grounds). The rider recalls finishing “fourth or fifth in the standings a couple of times.”
In September, 2010, Maldonado traveled to Fairplex Park, where he hooked up with veteran jockey agent Lipton. The pair teamed for five wins from 44 mounts on the bullring. They struggled at Oak Tree with just one win and picked up another five victories at the Betfair Hollywood Park Autumn meet. 
As 2011 rolled in, Maldonado was getting on more horses, but his win percentage didn’t improve. He went 10-for-157 at Santa Anita and 12-for-121 at Hollywood Park. At that point, the wheels were starting to come off. 
“After that meet at Hollywood Park, Vic had some personal problems and that’s why I left him,” explained Maldonado.  In four meetings the rest of the year, Maldonado went 18-for-206.
“After I split with Vic, I went through two agents, but nothing clicked.  My business was really going down fast and for a time during Santa Anita this year, I didn’t have an agent for two weeks.
“One morning I was working horses for Jorge Periban and he told me he has an agent in mind for me.”  Unbeknownst to Maldonado, Periban had told Lipton earlier that he has a rider Vic might want to take.  “Jorge didn’t know that Vic had been my agent before,’’ said Maldonado.
“So when we arrived in Jorge’s barn and met face to face, we both laughed.  We talked for a while and a week later he took my book.”
From there, both rider and agent described what happed next as “magic.”
“What Edwin and I created is a miracle,” said Lipton.  At the beginning of this year we were two dead men walking.  I was very sick for a while, but I cured myself.”
Lipton credits his belief in “theoretical quantum physics” as the reason he was able to get healthy.
“I truly believe that anything’s possible and that we’re setting an example,” said Lipton.  “Not a day goes by that we’re not urged on by grooms, hotwalkers, everyone on the backstretch.”
“Vic is a believer,” concurred Maldonado.  “He believes it can be done.  It’s really amazing.  We started from zero—nothing.  I’ve always worked hard and have been dedicated, but you can work hard and you won’t get results without focus.  When Vic and I got together again, I was really focused.”
“All of the sudden, we started winning, and the pieces just came together.”
Indeed, whatever force was with them, the winners started coming.  In their first full meeting back together, Maldonado won 25 races at the Betfair Hollywood Park Spring/Summer stand, took another 24 at Del Mar, then did the unthinkable at Fairplex Park by unseating Martin Pedroza, who had captured 13 consecutive riding titles at the Fair.
What makes Maldonado’s rise so improbable is the lack of a big barn.  “We ride for everyone,” said Maldonado. “It’s true that I have been riding some for Doug O’Neill, but he likes to spread it around.  We’re hoping as we go along that more of the big barns will ride us.”
Though Maldonado has the advantage going into the meet’s final day, he is by no means a slam dunk to win the title.  Bejarano had a triple Saturday, while Maldonado blanked.  Bejarano has eight mounts Sunday, while Maldonado has seven, and the former is on four morning line favorites.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s been a dream-come-true meeting for the rider.  “This has been unbelievable,” said a humble Maldonado.  “It’s still sinking in.”


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