After battling a foot injury since March, Pablo Morales is back to full strength and feeling chipper after career victory No. 2,000.
Despite winning on 4-year-old filly Dreaming Diamonds on March 20, Pablo Morales knew something wasn’t right with the left foot he’d injured six days earlier in a starting-gate mishap.
An X-ray revealed a break, sending the 31-year-old jockey to the sidelines for seven weeks.
At the time, Morales was four victories shy of 2,000 for his career. He rode one race on May 8, but quickly realized he had not recovered sufficiently to compete at the level to which he is accustomed.
Determined to reach 2,000 before the current Tampa Bay Downs meeting ended, Morales set his mind to the task.
“I dedicated myself for 10 days to strengthening the area, jogging a lot and doing a lot of Equicizer work,” he said, referring to the mechanical horse controlled by a rider’s movement.
“When I came back (on June 3), I felt such a difference.”
Two dates extensions granted by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation made it possible for Morales to hit the milestone at Tampa Bay Downs, and he made the most of his opportunity. The Lima, Peru product hit the mark in Wednesday's second race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden special weight contest on the turf, on 4-year-old filly Sanguine for owner Augustin Stable and trainer Jonathan Thomas.
Pablo Morales, holding sign, is joined by rival jockeys after career victory No. 2,000 aboard Sanguine
After racing in fourth place early, Sanguine and Morales moved smartly to the lead nearing the far turn and held off a late challenge from Aunt Dorothy to win by two-and-three-quarter lengths. Sanguine paid $4.60 to win as the betting favorite. “I knew she was the best horse in the race,” Morales said of the daughter of Quality Road. “I’m glad (Thomas) put the confidence in me to ride her.”
The occasion was recognized with a ceremony that included his rival jockeys in the winner’s circle after the race.
“”It’s a big accomplishment to me, because when I started. … you never think you’re going to even make it to 1,000. Making it to 2,000, it’s hard to believe,” Morales said. “I’ve been thinking about it a long time and it’s not an easy task, so I’m very proud and I’m very thankful for all the help I’ve gotten through my career. I just want to keep on going.”
He got a good start in that regard in the fifth race, helping 3-year-old filly Leishlanick break her maiden for owner Wills Jarrett and trainer Angel M. Rodriguez.
Given the circumstances surrounding his injury and the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that has affected all aspects of daily life, Morales accepted achieving the feat in front of an empty grandstand, with his wife Erin and their two children, agent Paula Bacon and other relatives and friends watching from home.
Pablo Morales (file photo)
“It definitely would have been sweeter with them here, but I really waited too long. I couldn’t care less if I was the only person here,” he said, laughing.
But they were foremost in his thoughts beforehand and afterward. “Paula has made a big difference in my career, and I think I have made a difference in hers,” he said. “We are a great team. I give all the thanks to my wife, my parents and my brothers and sister, and my kids (Sophia and Camilo), who watch me every race. My parents are in town with me, so we’ll go buy a steak after the races and celebrate a little.”
Morales, a five-time riding champion at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., plans to return there for the meeting beginning July 27.
Morales is fourth in the 2019-2020 Oldsmar standings with 61 victories. He has won two graded stakes, capturing the Grade II Super Derby in 2005 at Louisiana Downs on The Daddy and the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here last year on Well Defined.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Tuesday with an eight-race card to conclude the current meeting. There will be a mandatory Ultimate 6 jackpot payout, with all bettors correctly selecting the winners of the last six races sharing in the jackpot, which has reached $61,217. The minimum Ultimate 6 wager is 20 cents.
There will also be a mandatory Ultimate 6 jackpot payout on the Wednesday, July 1 card, the official first day of the 2020-2021 meeting, expected to resume in late November.