Pablo Morales has a burning desire to ride stakes-quality horses at the highest-profile tracks in the United States.
Winning his first riding title last year at Presque Isle Downs (with 97 victories, tied with Huber Villa-Gomez) was a sign that the 23-year-old Morales is gaining on his goal. Being in the top five of the jockeys’ standings at Tampa Bay Downs is another indicator of solid progress.
But whether he boots home three winners on a card or goes 0-for-6, Morales knows his responsibility to put forth his best effort doesn’t end after his final ride. His wife Erin and their 20-month-old daughter Sophia are counting on him for support, and he has come to cherish those expectations.
“I’m really in a good spot in my life right now,” said Morales, who has been selected as the Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month. “I’m very happy with my wife, very happy with my baby and able to concentrate on riding and having fun.
“In terms of my career, having a family has helped me mature so much. I don’t do everything for myself now; I have to do this for me and my family, so it has only helped me for the best,” Morales said.
“I love my little girl to death, and I spend all my time with her and try to be the best father possible. I love being home, watching movies, playing with Sophia and taking her for walks. I’ve been pretty quiet my whole life, but I’m so glad now because this is the life I always wanted.”
It’s hardly a surprise being “The Daddy” would appeal to Morales.
In the fall of 2005, Morales was 17 and a seven-pound apprentice with fewer than 20 rides stateside since arriving from his hometown of Lima, Peru, when he got the chance of a lifetime.
When journeyman Cornelio Velasquez decided not to travel to Louisiana Downs for the Grade II, $750,000 Super Derby, Morales got the mount on The Daddy, a 3-year-old owned by Greg Norman (not the golfer) and trained by Salvador Gonzalez.
Morales – who didn’t even own a cell phone, let alone possess a driver’s license – won the race by a neck from the D. Wayne Lukas-trained A.P. Arrow.
“It was crazy. The worst part of it was, I was so young and clueless of everything,” Morales said. “I was thankful for what happened, but when it comes so easy to you, you think it’s going to keep on going.
“At a very young age, I’ve experienced being on the top and being on the bottom, and I think I’m prepared to be on top again. I think I know how to handle everything, and when the opportunity comes again I’m going to stay there a long, long time, God willing,” Morales said.
Although he is not attached to one stable, Morales has won races at the current meeting for such top trainers as Christophe Clement, Wayne Catalano, Jane Cibelli, Jorge Navarro, Mark Frostad and Leigh Delacour. His agent, Mike Moran, expects Morales to keep attracting notice.
“This is a really tough place, because there are so many jockeys here and a lot of outfits arrived with their own riders,” Moran said. “So things are a little slow right now, but Pablo is doing well. He watches races well, tries to stay on the right part of the track and is good at taking a lazy horse away from the pony and getting it warmed up.
“He is a real sound rider, and he has a lot of confidence,” Moran added.
Morales won the first race Wednesday for owner John Falcone and trainer Jane Cibelli aboard their 4-year-old gelding Funfaha for his 19th victory of the meeting. It was a crafty ride, as he put Funfaha on the lead early in the mile-and-a-sixteenth claiming race and left enough in reserve to stave off Zee Are One by a half-length.
It was one of two victories on the card for Cibelli, who saddled the 3-year-old gelding Dance to the Roar to win the sixth race. Jorge Navarro also saddled two winners Wednesday: 6-year-old gelding Woodruff Ridge in the fourth race and 4-year-old filly Zaniah in the 10th.
Also recording two victories Wednesday were apprentice jockey Erik Barbaran and journeyman Pedro Cotto, Jr. Barbaran notched the second race on 3-year-old gelding Tour de Comprise and the seventh on 5-year-old gelding Well Run Dry. Cotto rode Woodruff Ridge and Zaniah for Navarro.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Thursday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcasting, no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.