Apprentice jockey Austin B. Solis had reason to be discouraged after losing back-to-back photo finishes with his only mounts Saturday.
But the 21-year-old son of the great Panamanian rider Alex Solis has been around racing long enough to know such days are inevitable.
After four second-place finishes during the opening days of the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs meeting, Austin broke through with his first career victory in today’s seventh race, powering 2011 Pelican Stakes winner See I A to a dominating seven-length victory from favorite Magnificent Wreck going seven furlongs on the main dirt track.
Maintaining a longstanding tradition, the young Solis’ fellow riders doused him with buckets of ice water after the victory. A couple of riders chilled the unsuspecting Solis from a perch on the jockeys’ room second-floor veranda, but Solis said nothing has felt as good since he began his career earlier in the meeting.
“It was pretty cold water, a lot of ice and dirt and everything,” Solis said. “The last time I saw somebody get initiated for his first win was Tyler Baze – they got really him good with hot peppers and everything. Luckily they didn’t do that to me today, but I’m freezing right now. But it feels tremendous. I’ve been waiting 21 years for today.”
Almost 3,000 miles away, Austin’s father had a much warmer feeling. The Gulfstream-based rider, home in Arcadia, Calif., for the holidays, watched the race at home with another son, Andrew. Alex Solis has ridden 4,975 winners, including Snow Chief in the 1986 Preakness and Pleasantly Perfect in the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic and 2004 Dubai World Cup.
“My heart was pounding like crazy,” Alex Solis said by telephone after watching Austin’s breakthrough victory on TV. “I have so many people calling me right now, it’s unbelievable. He knew after Saturday that things like (close losses) are going to happen, and you have to pick yourself up and ride the next race. He’s been working very hard and coming along well, and I’m very proud of him.”
Young Solis shared top billing on Sunday’s card with journeyman rider Antonio A. Gallardo, who rode four winners, including two for trainer Joan Scott. And Scott also had a huge day, saddling three winners, including her exceptional 3-year-old colt Ruler of Love, who finished second this past summer in both the Grade II West Virginia Derby and Grade II Super Derby.
But back to Solis and his ice-breaking victory. See I A was claimed from his previous start by trainer Gerald Bennett for new owner Winning Stables, Inc. Bennett, a former leading trainer at Tampa Bay Downs, is approaching the 3,400-career victory mark.
“I don’t know too much about (Solis), but he worked the horse for me and they got along real well,” Bennett said. “He rode a great race and did everything just the way I told him. He needs more experience – he dropped the whip the other day – but each race he rides, he will get more and more self-confidence. He has a great attitude and a good work ethic, plus he wants to be great at it.”
“Mr. Bennett is a great trainer, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Solis said. “To win my first race for him is pretty cool.”
Austin Solis moved from California to Miami two years ago to work with former jockey and current south Florida trainer Juan Arias, who graduated from the jockeys’ school in Panama the same year as Alex Solis. Tampa Bay Downs trainer Dennis Ward, the father of past Eclipse Award-winning apprentice and current trainer Wesley Ward, has also been schooling Austin.
“I’m very happy and lucky to have them on my side,” Austin said. “They really got me to where I am today. And the other jockeys here kept encouraging me. Quincy (Hamilton) came up to me yesterday after those photo finishes and told me not to worry, and that helped keep me up.
“My dad has been a big part of my life. I see his work ethic and his riding style, and to me there is no one who works harder than him. He’s a great rider and a great person and I’m very fortunate to have him as my dad,” he added.
The elder Solis sees a lot of himself in Austin. “He has a nice, quiet, long hold on horses. The first few times I watched him in a race, I saw that he had that connection with horses, and that’s what makes me so happy,” he said. “Horses run for him, and he’s known since he was a little kid he wanted to ride.”
The victory came on his 15th career mount.
Gallardo’s big day in the irons began in the fourth race, when he guided 3-year-old colt Creative Art to victory for owner Savoy Stable, LLC and trainer Dale Bennett. He added the fifth on the Joan Scott-trained 2-year-old maiden filly Babe’s Ruler on the turf for owner Alifyfe Racing.
Gallardo then won the eighth race on the turf for owner Inversiones FI, LLC and trainer Giuseppe Santulli on 12-1 shot Light the North before rewarding Scott again in the 10th on the turf with a classy effort on 3-year-old filly Pentathlon.
Ruler of Love, who won the ninth race – the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week – was ridden by five-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno. He is owned by Matthew N. Rebro, Jr., Frank Coniglio, Sidney Ritman and Richard Rendina.
Larry Opas and Frank Sinatra own Pentathlon. Scott swept the late daily double.
In the second race, a $25,000 claiming affair for older horses going six-and-a-half furlongs, past Tampa Bay Downs stakes winner Sneaking Uponyou sprinted to a clear early lead and rolled to a four-and-a-quarter length victory from Jost Van Dyke. The winner, a 7-year-old gelding, is owned by Jamie and Mandy Ness’ Jagger, Inc., stable and trained by Mandy Ness. The time of 1:16.18 was .71 seconds off the track record.
Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Fernando De La Cruz rode Sneaking Uponyou, his 22nd victory of the meeting and 201st of 2013, which is 16th best in North America. Sneaking Uponyou increased his career earnings to $378,959 with his eighth victory in 42 starts. His stakes victories include the 2010 Pelican Stakes and Turf Dash Stakes and the 2011 Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes.
Horsemen, track officials and fans are looking forward to a festive and bountiful holiday season, but all are eager to carry on the momentum of Tampa Bay Downs’ 88th season when Thoroughbred racing resumes with a nine-race card Thursday, Dec. 26 beginning at 12:25 p.m.
Racing will continue throughout next weekend as Tampa Bay Downs enters the four-days-a-week portion of its schedule. Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 1, Tampa Bay Downs will race on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays before adding Thursdays to the mix in February.
The Saturday, Dec. 28 10-race card has drawn 107 entries, including three turf races that have oversubscribed. Featured are the first two legs of the track’s Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series, with the fillies and mares division slated as the seventh race and the colts and geldings division as the ninth race.