Race of the Week 2017

Inner Track Profile: Junior Alvarado

When Junior Alvarado came to the United States from Venezuela three years ago, his goal was to eventually ride in New York. And after successful tours in Florida and Chicago – where he won Arlington Park’s 2009 riding title with 110 wins and finished second in 2010 – he has finally realized his goal.


“From the first time I got here, I planned on one day riding in New York,” said the 25-year-old journeyman, who through December 30 ranked fourth in Aqueduct Racetrack’s jockey standings with 11 winners. “But it wasn’t until now that the timing was right.”


The son of Venezuelan jockey Rafael Alvarado, Junior Alvarado – so named because his name was mistakenly entered as Junior Rafael Alvarado on his birth certificate – knew from an early age he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.


“He didn’t want me to become a jockey, he would rather that I go into the military,” said Alvarado. “But I would go to watch him ride at the track, and I wanted to be like him. When I first started exercising horses in the morning, the trainers would tell me, ‘If you are half as good as your Dad, you’ll be fine’.”


Having attended apprentice jockey school near his hometown of Barquisimeto, Alvarado moved his tack to Caracas for a brief stint, and then joined his brother, Edwin, a groom, at Gulfstream Park during the winter of 2007. After undergoing shoulder surgery, he moved onto Calder, where he lost his bug, and from there traveled to Chicago at the behest of agent Oscar Sanchez. In 2008, he won 81 races at Arlington Park to finish eighth, and after taking the title the following year underwent a second shoulder surgery before returning to riding in March of 2010.


“We did very well there,” said Alvarado, who won the Grade 1 Beverly D. with Richard Duchossois' Eclair de Lune and also took the 2010 edition of the G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity with Major Gain. “But I always wanted to try and come here, to New York.”


On the recommendation of jockey Fernando Jara, Alvarado called agent Mike Monroe, and arranged to move his tack to the Big Apple at the tail end of the fall meet at Belmont Park. He rode in only five races there, but when racing moved to the Big A, things began to pick up.


“When I first got to Belmont, all the top riders were still here, and I was only getting one or two mounts a day,” said Alvarado. “I was impatient, but my agent kept telling me to give it a chance. I used the opportunity to adjust to riding on dirt, instead of Polytrack, and to study as much as I could. I watch all the replays, and study the great riders like Ramon Dominguez and Javier Castellano.”


During the month of November, Alvarado, who stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 112 pounds, brought home six winners over the main track, quickly attracting the attention of such trainers as Gary Contessa, Rick Violette, and Ed Barker.


“He’s a very hard worker, and he rides even the cheapest claiming race as if he were riding in a stakes,” said Barker, for whom Alvarado finished second aboard Meese Rocks in the Garland of Roses. “I think he’s got a real future here.”


“I like his patience more than anything and his ability to adapt when the situation changes and the plan you make beforehand collapses,” added Contessa. “That is very important.”


Now, with a record of 11-15-10 from 79 starts through December 30 at the Big A, Alvarado has made his presence felt and is looking ahead to make 2011 his best year yet.


“I think it was the perfect time to come here,” he said. “From the time I first came to the United States I learned to improve my English, learned to ride American-style, and now, I’m 100 percent healthy. Timing is everything, and so far, it’s worked out great.”


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