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Racing News

Published Apr 5, 2024
by Mike Henry
Boot Barn Jockey of the Month Pablo Morales

Missing almost 11 weeks with a broken left wrist sustained in a training accident on Nov. 26 turned into an opportunity for Boot Barn Jockey of the Month Pablo Morales to draw closer to his family.

“I’d never had a wrist injury before, and I thought it would be about three weeks (before he returned to action),” Morales said. “Little did I know how complicated the wrist is, and finding out I had three fractures instead of one made things worse. A jockey needs strong wrists for holding the reins, steering, whipping – and I was afraid if I got on a complicated horse, I might get reinjured.

“After a month and a half, I realized I had lost all the mobility and strength in my wrist. Injuries are part of our business, but it was very discouraging.”

The support he received at home, coupled with his positive attitude, made it easier to adjust to being on the sidelines and stay diligent with his rehabilitation and therapy regimen, which included swimming and riding a stationary bicycle.

In addition to wife Erin, Morales turned to his children Sophia, 13, and Camilo, 11, to deal with the uncertainty, drawing strength by sharing in their activities and accomplishments.

“My daughter plays volleyball, and I was there for all of her practices and tournaments. She is so dedicated, and it makes me feel proud when I see her working so hard to get better,” Morales said. “It brings real happiness to me as a dad to see your kid so passionate about something.

“Camilo is an amazing drummer. I taught him the basics last year, and when I saw how much he loved it I got him a set of electric drums and put him in the School of Rock (Tampa). It’s ridiculous how good he is – they had their first show a week ago, and my jaw dropped when I saw him play so well.

“I’ve always been there for them before, but now I was soaking up every moment.”

The extra time spent with his youngsters helped push his frustrations to the background. Erin, the daughter of trainer Eduardo Rojas, completed a family portrait as gratifying to her husband as any winner’s-circle photograph.

“She is the foundation of our home. We’re extremely blessed,” he said.

Morales, whose 2,639 career winners include a trio of graded stakes, has returned to his breadwinner’s role with gusto, riding 13 winners since his return on Feb. 9. He is 14th in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 16 victories.

He plans to be in topnotch condition upon returning to Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., where he will bid for a fifth consecutive riding title and 10th overall beginning May 20.

Morales’s agent, former jockey Paula Bacon, says it took a little longer than she expected to persuade horsemen to request his services after his return to action on Feb. 9. “It wasn’t all stars and sunshine and rainbows at first. This is a very, very competitive jockeys’ colony, and people had to be sure that his judgment and timing and everything else weren’t going to be affected (by the layoff),” Bacon said.

“But with the little stuff that I got him, he made things count, and people were able to see for themselves that he was back to doing what he does best – winning. He’s a very competitive kid, and he doesn’t like to be sidelined.”

Proof that the Pablo of old is back (or, more accurately, never left) came in Wednesday’s fifth race. Riding the 5-year-old Florida-bred mare Sea Art, the longest shot in the race, Morales encountered a trio of challengers at the top of the stretch of the 7-furlong race.

Pumping his arms in unceasing rhythm with Sea Art’s determined strides, Morales never lost focus as Sequin Lady, with all the momentum, challenged from the outside. Veteran Morales observers – especially those with a win ticket on Sea Art – took heart in the knowledge the 35-year-old Lima, Peru product finishes as well as any rider at the Oldsmar oval.

That ability seemed to make the difference again. The photo-finish camera called it for Sea Art and Morales by a nose, a margin both were clearly prepared to maintain past the wire, if necessary.

“To me, that is Pablo’s strongest suit – it’s really hard for anyone to out-finish him,” Bacon said. “From the eighth pole on, I’ll take him anytime.”

“It feels really good, especially when I see myself on TV (replays),” Morales said. “I see my old self, never missing a beat. My strong finishes – I’m proud, and I’m still here.

“If anything, I’m surprised how well I’m doing. I’m excited about coming back here next year, and I’m trying to do the best I can to keep my business and maybe regain some. I know nobody cares what I did in past years and I just have to keep proving myself.

“My main job is staying healthy, staying safe and working hard to get another title (at Presque Isle Downs),” he added. “I have a good chance because of the career I’ve had there, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be given to me. I have to work hard and ride every single race hard.”

Whenever he needs a reminder of what extra effort can accomplish, he can turn his gaze to the volleyball court and the concert stage.

Around the oval. Apprentice jockey Melissa Iorio notched the first hat trick of her career today, notching three victories and a third from six mounts. She started by winning the second race on Sing Scat, a 4-year-old filly owned by A O M Racing Stables and Diamond Hands Racing and trained by Alejandro Olais Mendieta.

Iorio next won the fifth race on Let’s Connect, a 3-year-old filly owned by PTJ Stable and trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr. Let’s Connect was claimed from the race for $16,000 by new owner-trainer Maria Mann. Iorio added the sixth aboard Sir Goosa, a 4-year-old gelding owned by 1 and Done Stable and trained by Joseph Orseno.

Sir Goosa was claimed for $8,000 by trainer Marvin Buffalo for new owners Marvin Buffalo and Deb Buffalo.

Jose Ferrer swept the late daily double. He won the eighth race on Night Cap, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Winning Stables and Averill Racing and trained by Gerald Bennett. Ferrer added the ninth with Lord Barna, a 9-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by DiBello Racing and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:15 p.m. There are three $53,000 races scheduled, all on the turf: the third and the seventh, both maiden special weight contests, and the fifth, an allowance for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward.

In addition to the on-track excitement, Tampa Bay Downs will present a full slate of simulcast action, including three “Road to the Kentucky Derby” prep races: the Grade I, $1-million Toyota Blue Grass from Keeneland, the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby from southern California and the Grade II, $750,000 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino from Aqueduct.

There are 11 horses entered in the Toyota Blue Grass, which is the 10th race on the Keeneland card. The morning-line 2-1 favorite for the mile-and-an-eighth race is Sierra Leone, trainer Chad Brown’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes winner who will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione.

Tampa Bay Downs followers may find value in Brown’s colt Good Money, who is 20-1 on the morning line. He will be ridden by Javier Castellano. Good Money broke his maiden here on Jan. 26 in his first career start and finished fourth in the Grade III Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.

Another Toyota Blue Grass entrant, Mugatu, was sixth here on Dec. 31 in an allowance/optional claiming event. He is trained by Jeff Engler and will be ridden by Joseph Talamo and is 30-1 on the morning line.

There are eight entered in the 9-furlong Santa Anita Derby, which is the 10th race out west. The morning-line 8-5 favorite is the Grade II DK Horse San Felipe Stakes winner Imagination, trained by Bob Baffert with Lanfranco Dettori named to ride.

The Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino, also at a mile-and-an-eighth, is the 10th on a stakes-laden Aqueduct card, with 13 horses set to attempt to prove they belong in the 150th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve starting gate on May 4 at Churchill Downs. The 8-5 morning-line favorite is trainer Christophe Clement’s colt Deterministic, who won the Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 2 at Aqueduct. Joel Rosario is the jockey.

The Bill Mott-trained Elysian Meadows, who will be ridden by Jose Lezcano, finished fourth here on Feb. 10 in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes. He could be interesting to a lot of bettors at his morning-line odds of 15-1. Protective, a 30-1 shot trained by Todd Pletcher, with Kendrick Carmouche set to ride, finished fourth on March 10 at the Oldsmar oval in a maiden special weight race.

Sunday’s nine-race card will be highlighted by the Oldsmar Cup, slated as the fourth race. The 7-year-old Florida-bred gelding Drama Chorus, who won the Florida Cup Turf Classic Stakes here in both 2022 and 2023, will be making his first start in more than 9 months for breeder-owner Peter D. Mattson, trainer Tim Padilla and jockey Alonso Quinonez.

The Oldsmar Cup recognizes the fruitful, nearly century-long relationship between the City of Oldsmar and Tampa Bay Downs. All Oldsmar residents will be admitted free of charge (with valid ID) and can join Mayor Dan Saracki and other dignitaries for the winner’s-circle presentation.

Sunday also is Mouse’s Kids and Family Day in the Backyard Picnic Area, with games, bounce houses and pony rides. Fans will also have a chance to meet track mascot Mouse the Miniature Horse.

The gates open at 11 a.m. and post time for the first race is 12:19 p.m.


Boot Barn Jockey of the Month Pablo Morales

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