Three weeks ago, jockey Marcos Meneses entered a world reserved for a handful of members of his profession when he rode long shot Il Miracolo in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
Meneses’s 3-year-old colt finished seventh in the nine-horse field, more than 15 lengths behind winner Arcangelo, trained by Jena Antonucci. But losing did nothing to diminish the experience and the memories of riding in one of the world’s most famous races against some of the best jockeys on the planet.
“I’ve never felt something like that. It was the best experience of my career,” Meneses said.
The 37-year-old Venezuela product had a performance he’ll remember for a while today at Tampa Bay Downs, riding three winners on the first day of the 11th annual Summer Festival of Racing to take a commanding lead in the $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge.
With six mounts on today’s card, which begins at 11:30 a.m., Meneses is well-positioned to take home the $2,500 first prize. He has 40 points, leading runner-up Jose L. Alonso with 30 and third-place jockey Richard A. Bracho with 28. Today’s three-bagger came on the official final day of the 2022-2023 Oldsmar meeting, giving Meneses 48 victories and a sixth-place finish in the standings.
The nature of the sport provides jockeys little time to bask in their accomplishments, at least until they’re retired and leafing through scrapbooks with the grandkids. But Meneses, 37, is unlikely to forget the atmosphere surrounding the Belmont, which marked the first Triple Crown victory by a female trainer.
First came his walk to the paddock with luminaries such as Hall of Famers Javier Castellano (the winner) and John Velazquez; the Ortiz brothers, Irad and Jose; and four other guys much better known to the average fan than Meneses.
He really started to grasp the magnitude of the occasion during the post parade. “The noise in the grandstand was freakin’ crazy. Everyone was so excited, and I never felt something like that,” he said. “It was such a pleasure to ride in that race. I was a little nervous, but I tried to enjoy the moment. My horse didn’t do much, but it was OK.”
Il Miracolo was entered in the Belmont after winning an allowance/optional claiming race on May 11 at Gulfstream under Meneses for trainer Antonio Sano.
No one can forecast when such an opportunity will come again, but Meneses’s career seems to be on the upswing. His ambition is to ride regularly at some of the biggest tracks in the country within the next few years.
Bottom line: “I love my job. I love being a jockey, and I try to do my best every time at every track every day I ride.”
Meneses won today’s second race on 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Runaway Tom for owner Tage Boohit and trainer Karyn Philipp. He added the fifth on the turf on 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding Hasn’t Had Enough for owners Del Sol Farm and Louis Clarizio, III and trainer Moises Yanez and the sixth on 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Poseidon’s Son for owner Sya’s Farm and trainer Wlaimar Suarez.
Bracho rode two winners, both for breeder-owner-trainer Dennis Manning. They won the first on the turf with Verifiable, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly, and the fourth, also on the grass, with 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Street Glide.
Paddock Pitmasters feast set for Saturday. By mid-afternoon today, expert barbecue chefs had begun cooking for the inaugural Paddock Pitmasters competition on Saturday, featuring the mouth-watering brisket, chicken, pulled pork and ribs to be offered throughout the second and final day of the Summer Festival of Racing.
Tickets are $25 ($10 for children 12-and-under) and entitle buyers to taste the best barbecue seven chefs have to offer. Fans will have an opportunity to vote for the best in each category, a “Grand Champion” and a “People’s Choice” winner.
Tickets may be purchased at the site (in the Cabanas on the first floor of the Grandstand) or online at www.eventbrite.com . Food should be available soon after 11 a.m.