Carlos Lozada’s experience on horses was limited mostly to pleasure riding when he enrolled in the Escuela Vocacional Hipica Jockey School at Camarero Race Track in Puerto Rico nine years ago.
With a wife and newborn son, Lozada knew he had to find a way to support his family beyond his job stocking shelves and bagging groceries at a supermarket. Even though it takes a year before students are allowed to take a horse to the track, Lozada knew almost instantly he had found his career.
“We had to do everything – groom the horses, feed them, clean their stalls,” said the 29-year-old Lozada, who was named Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month after posting six victories since April 4. “I kept learning little by little, and the more I got involved the more I loved it.
“It taught me to make a connection with horses,” added Lozada, who insists his favorite part of his early training was cleaning the stalls because it relaxed him.
Graduates of the two-year program include Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, whom Lozada admires for his talent and strong hands.
Following graduation, Lozada got out of the grocery business and rode a handful of races at Camarero before beginning his stateside career at Evangeline Downs in Louisiana. He competed in the Pelican State from 2007-2013, then transferred his tack to Oldsmar early this year.
When Lozada rode two winners on Jan. 24, his agent Yamil Mayo braced for a flood of phone calls and text messages from Tampa Bay Downs trainers.
The hoped-for deluge never materialized, though, because of previous commitments. So Lozada sustained himself the best way he knows: by getting on horses in the morning, staying prepared mentally and drawing encouragement from his wife Eileen and their three sons.
Lozada and his wife have the same tattoo on the inside of their forearm, consisting of the Chinese characters for husband, wife and child. It’s a reminder that Eileen and the boys – Anthony, 9, Jean, 7, and Jandriel, 5 – don’t judge him by his results on the track, but his determination and effort.
“My wife is always there to help me in everything I do,” said Lozada. “When I decided to come here this winter (from Delta Downs in Vinton, La.), she said she would follow me wherever I want to go. She has been a big help to my career.”
The Lozada clan is receiving proof he made the right decision. Since April 4 he has been as hot as any Tampa Bay Downs jockey not named Gallardo, Allen, Centeno, De La Cruz or Pedroza, with six victories that included win prices of $56.80, $28.80, $18 and $16.40.
“We talked every day about not getting down, and Carlos kept fighting, fighting, fighting,” said Mayo. “He is very tough mentally, and I’m proud of how he kept working when things weren’t going his way.”
Lozada, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, is optimistic this season’s strong finish will enable him to start the 2014-15 Tampa Bay Downs meeting with a higher identity and more mounts from the outset. “They (trainers) know me now,” he said, smiling.
“Carlos is a very patient guy, and when I told him it was going to be tough coming here after the meet had started, he accepted that,” Mayo said. “He’s a strong rider, very smart, and he loves watching replays, reading the form and studying other riders’ styles to stay mentally prepared.”
Odds and ends. Brian Pedroza rode three winners as he continues to pursue a top-five finish (he has 35 victories, two behind fifth-place jockey Harry Vega).
Pedroza won the second race on the turf on 5-year-old mare Thecushmaker for owner Richard Perkins and trainer David Hinsley and the third on 5-year-old gelding Chosen Heir for owner Chris Reynolds and trainer William Downing.
He added the eighth race on the turf on 3-year-old gelding Sugah Dandy for owners Seven Gables and Arthur Loxsom and trainer Cathy Rountree.
Antonio Gallardo and Ronnie Allen, Jr., each rode two winners today, enabling Gallardo to move closer to his first Tampa Bay Downs jockeys title with a `114-106 advantage in victories and four racing days left (including the June 30 card that kicks off the second annual, two-day Summer Festival of Racing).
Gallardo won the fourth race on the turf on 3-year-old filly Playrockforme for owner Big Lick Farm and trainer Reid Nagle and the fifth on 4-year-old filly Jill’s Image for owner Rose Family Stable and trainer Alejandro Reyes.
Allen captured the first race on 6-year-old mare Anchorwoman for owner Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trainer Robert G. Smith and the sixth race on the turf on 5-year-old gelding Purincat for owner Charles R. Patton and trainer Tom Proctor.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:35 p.m. There is a Super High-5 carryover of $4,146.64.
Plans are underway for a spectacular weekend of Thoroughbred racing, featuring the simulcast of Saturday’s 140th annual Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands at Churchill Downs in Louisville and Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday.
Numerous festivities and events are being planned at Tampa Bay Downs for the big weekend. Fans are encouraged to join the fun by participating in the traditions that help make the Kentucky Derby such a beloved spectacle, such as sipping on a refreshing mint julep, wearing the most stylish (or hideous!) Derby hat they can find and impressing their friends by naming all 11 Triple Crown winners.
The gates open Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., with the first race simulcast from Churchill Downs at 10:30 a.m. The field for Friday’s Grade I, $1-million Longines Kentucky Oaks includes the Tom Proctor-trained 3-year-old filly Please Explain, who won the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 1.
On Sunday, Fan Appreciation Day, grandstand admission is free and hot dogs, sodas and 12-ounce beers are $1 from noon-3 p.m.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.