WITHOUT MUCH FANFARE, BATISTA EARNS JOCKEY OF MONTH AWARD

by Mike Henry

Watching Jose Batista approach his job with the professionalism and positivity of a 20-year veteran brings forth a feeling of pride in his agent, former jockey Eddie Joe Zambrana.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity for me,” Zambrana said of his relationship with the 25-year-old Panamanian, who earned the Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month Award after riding 12 winners over a period of 13 racing days. “We really work well together as a team, and he respects my job and I respect his job.

“For him, being a jockey isn’t like a job. He loves racing horses. It’s in his blood,” Zambrana said.

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Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month Jose Batista, left, with his agent, Eddie Joe Zambrana

It might require a psychologist to determine why some successful jockeys capture the public’s attention, while others fly under the radar despite winning at a good percentage. In Batista’s case, his quiet nature and relative lack of big-race victories are probably contributing factors to his lack of recognition.

But for now, at least, Batista seems content to ply his trade in comparative obscurity. Just give him a chance on several horses with a chance each day, and he is ready to go to work.

Given the chance to describe his talents, Batista – who speaks limited English, like this correspondent’s limited Spanish – shifts the focus to the horsemen who have made his climb possible.

“I have to thank the trainers and owners for giving me good opportunities. I just try to stay consistent and win races,” he said.

Which, when you think about it, pretty much sums up any jockey’s mission – to produce the kind of results that keep the chances with good horses coming.

Juan Arriagada, who is tied for second in the Tampa Bay Downs trainer standings with 20 winners, has formed a productive connection with Batista that he expects to continue.

“Jose has everything a young jockey needs to be successful,” Arriagada said. “He breaks sharp from the gate, he puts horses in the right spot and then. … forget it. It’s amazing to me how many of my horses feel good with him riding them.

“He is very focused and listens to what I tell him. And he is very into his job. If I call (Zambrana) and say I need Jose here at 6 a.m., he’ll be at my barn at 5:45 waiting for me.”

Batista’s eyes light up when he talks about one of his inspirations, superstar jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who traveled to Tampa Bay Downs earlier this season to win both the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes and Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby aboard top Kentucky Derby hopeful Classic Causeway.

“His attitude – he’s a humble person and he treats everybody with respect. And of course, the way he rides,” said Batista, who says he received some excellent advice from Ortiz while he was here.

Batista, who is seventh in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 30 victories, started dreaming the dream when he was 13 and an uncle took him to Presidente Remon Racetrack in Panama. Two years later, he enrolled in the Laffit Pincay Jr. Technical Jockey Training Academy, immersing himself in every detail he needed to pursue his ambition.

After earning his diploma, he put his knowledge to quick use, winning the first race he rode in 2014 and becoming the track’s leading apprentice.

Batista began riding in the United States in 2017 at Gulfstream Park and joined the ranks of graded stakes-winning jockeys the following year on Conquest Big E in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile Stakes for trainer Donna Hurtak. He scored his 300th victory in the United States here on March 16 aboard Macho Real for trainer Juan C. Avila.

Zambrana said he is looking forward to continuing his partnership with Batista at Monmouth Park in New Jersey after the Oldsmar meet. “He does well everywhere he goes,” Zambrana said, “and that happens when you have a good rider. He’s good coming out of the gate and really good finishing. He’s just a good, all-around rider.”