Recovering from a fractured tibia and fibula, veteran jockey is hustling bookings for close friends Willie Martinez and David Delgado; Zambrana has landed nine mounts between them for Saturday's Opening Day card.
Eddie Joe Zambrana has been waking up to a new reality since suffering compound fractures of his right tibia and fibula in a starting-gate accident at Presque Isle Downs in August.
The 39-year-old Zambrana, a familiar face at Tampa Bay Downs as a jockey and exercise rider, admits there are times he feels lost at the prospect of not riding again until next spring or summer.
“I love racing. Riding horses is what I really like to do,” Zambrana said. “But I’m not going to be riding all my life. I’m going to be 40 soon, and I always told myself I wanted to retire (from being a jockey) in my 40s.”
Jockey-turned-agent Eddie Joe Zambrana, center, checks the condition book with clients David Delgado, left, and Willie Martinez
Zambrana, who will begin physical therapy in January, still needed to find a new way to support himself and his two sons while he recovers from his accident. As Saturday’s Opening Day card at Tampa Bay Downs approached, he agreed to become an agent for two long-time friends, jockeys Willie Martinez and David Delgado.
A jockey’s agent is responsible for helping riders secure mounts, both for morning workouts and the afternoon races, and keeping their schedules straight and manageable. For Zambrana, who has often hustled his own bookings during his 17-year career, the early adjustment has been smooth.
Based on close friendships forged in the heat of competition, the three men have total trust in one another. Zambrana and Martinez both attended Delgado’s recent wedding, and all enjoy each other’s company away from the racetrack.
Their biggest commonality: Thoroughbred racing is in their blood.
“Eddie has a passion for racing, and he loves coming to the track every day,” said the 38-year-old Delgado. “Everybody on the backside knows him and likes him, and I think he’ll do a good job as an agent because he knows how things work and he talks to everybody with respect.”
Martinez is one of the most accomplished jockeys at Tampa Bay Downs, his 3,427 career victories including the 2012 Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Trinniberg. Martinez decided while on a recent vacation in Costa Rica that he would team with Zambrana.
“Eddie is somebody I love as a brother, and I want to see him do a good job. And I would rather put money in his pocket than anybody else’s,” Martinez, 47, said. “I told him he doesn’t have to give up his dreams, just put them aside for now and try something where he can fit better until he can ride again.
“Everything in life is timing, and this opportunity may open different doors for him,” Martinez said. “He’s not a young kid any more, and when you’re battling your weight or getting injured, it makes you think. He’s going to approach this the same way we all approach riding – you take things one day at a time, try to stay in the middle lane, grind and work hard.”
For the record, Zambrana said he ate more Thanksgiving turkey Thursday than any time he can remember.
The three know how difficult it can be for a new agent to find business at Tampa Bay Downs, where two agents – Mike Moran (Antonio Gallardo and Daniel Centeno) and Paula Bacon (Pablo Morales and Ronnie Allen, Jr.) – have dominated in recent seasons.
For that reason, Zambrana is happy to have secured six mounts for Martinez and three for Delgado on Saturday’s Opening Day card.
“It depends how well I do whether I decide to become an agent full-time or ride again,” Zambrana said. “I’m learning from these two guys every day about this side of the business, and other agents have given me tips on how to do the job.
“I don’t feel down about what happened,” Zambrana added. “I want to be on the track riding and in the jockeys’ room during the races, but I’ve got two good riders who know how to win and I’m excited to keep learning.”