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Maldonado on a roll in Southern California

A year ago, jockey Edwin Maldonado and his agent, Vic Lipton, were on the outside looking in trying to get a foot in the door on arguably the nation’s most competitive riding colony not just when it comes to winning races, but gaining mounts on live horses. Scrooge was not giving them a prize turkey for dinner.

“We were two dead men walking,” said the diminutive Lipton, an agent for more than four decades. “I was physically dead; he was professionally dead.”

Lipton looked like he was at death’s door, due to a liver ailment that pared his weight to an unsightly frailness. Maldonado was revving his motor but essentially spinning his wheels.

Business was bah, humbug.

“But we got back together,” continued Lipton, whose first rider was top apprentice H.K. “Duke” Wellington at Caliente in 1969. “I think Edwin and I set an example for other people because every day they were rooting us on.”

Fast forward to Dec. 16, the final day of the Betfair Hollywood Park meet. Maldonado wins his first major riding title and only the second of his career. In September, he captured the Fairplex Park crown.

At Hollywood, Maldonado outlasted perennial Southern California kingpin Rafael Bejarano by one victory, 30-29. It was a stunning signature accomplishment for the 30-year-old Maldonado, who at 5-7, physically stands head and shoulders above the typical jockey.

He looks and speaks like the average guy, lives in Baldwin Park with his girlfriend, Angel, and his three daughters, Mackenzie, 13, Genesis, 8, and Alicia, 3, and comes from a racing family. His father and grandfather were jockeys. Edwin has been riding since 2002.

“The success we’ve had has been inspiration to many of our peers,” Lipton said. “We start from scratch every day.”

Lipton evaded a question on his chronological age, responding philosophically. “Like Einstein said,” Lipton pointed out, “a man 30 can feel 90 and a man 90 can feel 30, so biologically, I’m in my 20s.

“The reason my health failed was due to my arrogance. I had half a liver. I didn’t think it would affect me, but it did.”

Two of Maldonado’s top patrons are trainers Doug O’Neill and Jeff Bonde. “He worked very hard in the mornings to get into those barns,” Lipton said. “He didn’t always ride the horses he worked, but he started winning for them and it progressed from there.”

“Time and patience,” Maldonado said when asked the major reasons for his overnight success. “Vic helped me a lot in that respect, and I never stopped working, even though I knew I would never ride the horses I was working.

“But I knew eventually they would give me a shot. There were a couple times when I thought about leaving, but I stayed and it paid off. When I first came to Southern California in 2010, I met Vic. He was my first agent, but he had some personal problems and we split up. I went through two agents but I didn’t do as well as I had with Vic so we had a talk and I went back with him.

“Winning the title at Hollywood went down to the last day, so that was pretty exciting,” continued Maldonado, who is named on eight horses on opening day. “Bejarano won five races in two days to close the gap when I thought I was out of the woods, but I wasn’t.”

No less an authority than Julio Canani had high praise for Maldonado. “He can ride,” the trainer said. “Horses run past him but he keeps trying. His horses come back on. He tries hard for the minor awards, and that’s what trainers and owners appreciate. They need every dollar of purse money they can get.”

“Edwin has a good work ethic,” said Bonde in explaining why he rides him. “He’s a talented kid who’s a good gate rider and a good finisher. He’s my kind of rider.”

Dickens would have agreed.

 

 

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