Archive for September 2014

Paco Lopez Wins the Third Monmouth Park Riding Title

The Monmouth Park meeting that concluded Sunday showed gains in attendance, ontrack handle, and all-sources handle, according to figures released by the track Monday.

Average attendance at the 57-day meet was 9,296, an increase of 3.4 percent over 2013, when 61 days of racing were held. Ontrack betting at the meet averaged $538,540 per day, 5.6 percent higher than the $510,106 wagered daily last year.

Read Original Article from Racing Daily Form

Average daily all-sources handle on the Monmouth races was $4.59 million, an increase of 3.5 percent over the 2013 average of $4.4 million.

The Monmouth figures are bolstered each year by Haskell Day. This year’s announced Haskell attendance was 35,983, and $15,952,611 was wagered.

“Last year, we thought we had turned the corner, and this year’s successes have put us on firmer ground as we continue to build a better racing program and entertainment destination that is second to none,” said Dennis Drazin, adviser to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Darby Development LLC, operators of the racetrack.

Ongoing projects at Monmouth include the construction of a restaurant near the track’s miniature golf course and the 2015 completion of a 7,500-seat amphitheater. A new offtrack betting parlor is scheduled to open soon in Hillsborough, N.J.

Paco Lopez won his third Monmouth riding title. Lopez dominated the meet with 120 wins, more than double the 58 of runner-up Gabriel Saez. Lopez set a Monmouth record by winning seven races on May 17. He came back to have another seven-win day June 6.

Jorge Navarro won his second straight training title with 43 wins. White Wabbit Wacing was the leading owner with 24 wins.

The most notable equine performances of the meet belonged to Bayern, who won the Haskell by more than seven lengths; Main Sequence, who defeated Twilight Eclipse by a neck in the United Nations; and Itsmyluckyday, who won the Salvator Mile and then went on to win the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.

Paco to Ride Keenland

Paco Lopez, who has won on 120 mounts at Monmouth this summer, will hope to continue that hot streak when he rides at Keeneland's fall meeting.Few jockeys have ever dominated a meet like Paco Lopez has at Monmouth Park this summer.

With two days left in the 57-day season, Lopez leads runner-up Gabriel Saez 120 to 54. Lopez’s mounts have earned over $3.3 million, more than double his nearest competitor.

Read Original Article from Daily Racing Form

Until this meet, no jockey had ever ridden more than six winners on a Monmouth Park card. Lopez rode seven – twice.

The previous record holders with six wins were Joe Bravo, Julie Krone, Chris Antley, Walter Blum, Eddie Castro, and Jose Lezcano. Good company, to say the least.

Lopez will be absent Saturday at Monmouth, as he will be at Belmont Park to ride Itsmyluckyday in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap and Ribo Bobo in the Grade 1 Vosburgh. He will be on hand Sunday for closing day.

“I have had great opportunities,” Lopez said.

“I have been on the right horses and have done my best to win with them.”

Lopez and his agent, Cory Moran, will head to Kentucky next week to ride the Keeneland meet,
which begins Friday. They hope to stay in Kentucky through the Breeders’ Cup, then plan to return
to their winter base at Gulfstream Park.

“We have some stakes mounts lined up at Keeneland, and we are going to stay and see if we can
build up some business in Kentucky,” Moran said. “We both love the Keeneland meet.”
Lopez, 28, is from Veracruz, Mexico. He began riding in the U.S. in 2007 in Florida and started
spending his summers in New Jersey in 2009. He previously won Monmouth titles in 2010 and

Lopez always has been an aggressive rider, but he has matured over the years and is much more
polished than he was early in his career.

Lopez’s success this summer goes beyond his accomplishments at Monmouth. He went 4 for 7 in
stakes at Saratoga and won his first Grade 1 on Itsmyluckyday in the Woodward. He also was
second in the Grade 1 Whitney on Itsmyluckyday, who is trained by Eddie Plesa Jr.
Lopez’s other Saratoga stakes winners came on Stonetastic in the Grade 2 Prioress for trainer Kelly
Breen; on R Free Roll in the Grade 2 Honorable for trainer Danny Gargan; and on Bern Identity in
the $100,000 Tale of the Cat for Breen.

Lopez Introduces Himself to Saratoga

“Cheatin’ …”

The next word is unprintable in this space. I knew it was jockey Junior Alvarado even before I swung
my head around to check.

The cheatin’ … person … to whom he was referring, meanwhile, was calmly and confidently waiting for the objection lodged by Alvarado to be gaveled into oblivion by the stewards.

Read Original Article from The Daily Gazette

And after a minute or so, it was, giving 28-year-old Paco Lopez, who likely has been called such coarse things before, the first Grade I victory of his career, on Itsmyluckyday in the Woodward at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.

It capped a magnificent daily double for Lopez, who also won the Grade II Prioress on Stonetastic.

Itsmyluckyday’s trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr., who employs Lopez on a regular basis at Gulfstream Park in
Florida and Monmouth Park in New Jersey, said he prefers to be a big fish in a small pond, but Lopez
was a big fish in the biggest pond on Saturday.

The former quarterhorse rider who was once banned for two months at Calder roughhoused it with Alvarado and Whitney winner Moreno for all they were worth for the length of the stretch to win the

With 40 days of racing nearly over, the native of Vera cruz, Mexico, has ridden just 16 times here this meet, but has four wins that include two of the biggest on Saturday’s blockbuster card.

“Paco’s an outstanding rider who you will be hearing a lot about, no ifs, ands or buts,” Plesa said. “He belongs in the top tier of riders, in my opinion. I’ve been using him since he had the bug.”
That was 2008, when Lopez led the nation in wins for a bug boy and won the Apprentice Eclipse

He grew up poor on a farm with no electricity or running water, moved to a ranch when he was 12 and was in Florida riding quarterhorses by 2006.

Lopez transferred that Wild West style to thoroughbred racing, which cost him the last two months of
his Eclipse Award season when the Calder stewards got fed up with his appeals of six infractions
totaling over 30 days of suspension.

Must’ve seemed like old times during the stretch drive of the Woodward.

Alvarado was on Moreno to the inside of Lopez and Itsmyluckyday, and it may as well have been the
Dodge Charger and Steve McQueen’s Mustang GT swapping hide in “Bullitt.”

Itsmyluckyday and Moreno made contact eight times by my count, and I scored it 5-3 in favor of

So it seemed ludicrous that it was Alvarado who protested to the judges, but then again, he lost.

“I probably should have thrown myself on the ground to see if he would have got disqualified in this
race,” Alvarado said.

And the Oscar goes to …

Moreno’s trainer, Eric Guillot, naturally, delivered the sour grapes that were as hil arious as you’d
expect them to be. “Looks like I’m going to the Complaint Department again. What time they open?” he said, laughing and referring to last year’s Travers, when Moreno lost and Guillot started an illegal buzzer controversy that was quashed by an investigation.

Lopez just smiled the smile of a winner.

His English is rough, but his dominant form at Monmouth translated well to the hallowed ground of

Lopez has a ridiculous 110-45 edge over Orlando Bocachica in the rider standings on the Jersey Shore,
and has topped $3 million in earnings there for the second year in a row. He had 99 winners at Monmouth in 2013, with the next three in the jockey standings each with just over 50.

Still, the Saratoga colony can be intimidating to an outsider.

“Yeah, but I have the same competition at Gulfstream, so for me, it’s no different,” Lopez said. “I know the riders here, and it’s the same thing as Florida.”

“He’s a smart, aggressive rider that does the right thing and has something between his ears, that he
thinks and he knows the game,” Plesa said. “He works extremely hard, just does everything right. He’s
a credit to his profession and a credit to his country and a credit to his family. Just a great person.”

I jokingly said, “Now you have to say something bad about him,” and Plesa just chuckled.

Next question.

Paco wins the Sapling Stakes with Souper Colossal

And the beat goes on for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. at Monmouth Park Aug. 31 as he captured the racetrack’s top 2-year-old stakes events just one day after saddling Itsmyluckyday to win the $600,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course.

Read Original Article from Blood-Horse

Paco wins the Sapling Stakes with Souper ColossalLive Oak Plantation’s even-money choice Souper Colossal dominated his foes in the $101,000 Sapling Sunday, shortly after Laurie Plesa and Vincent Rizzuto’s Concealedwithakiss cruised to victory in the $77,500 Sorority Stakes before a crowd of 15,762.

With Paco Lopez in the irons, Souper Colossal grabbed command right after the start before asked for his best run at the top of the lane as he expanded his margin all the way to the wire. Souper Colossal stopped the timer in 1:38.44 for a flat mile over the fast main track.

“It’s been an unbelievable weekend,” said Plesa after the Sapling win. “We knew this horse (Souper Colossal) would run well today. That was exactly what we were hoping for and he certainly showed up today.

We’ll talk it over with the owner and see where we’ll go from here, but he sure showed that he’s a classy horse with a bright future.”

Souper Colossal returned $4, $2.60 and $2.10 while defeating five opponents. Wild Zambezi, who finished 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner, completed the $14.60 exacta and paid $3.20 and $2.20. It was another 1 3/4 length back to Pride of Stride, who paid $2.20 to show.

A son of War Front bred in Kentucky by Moyglare Stud from the Kingmambo mare Soaring Emotions, Souper Colossal has won all three of his starts, all at Monmouth Park, good for earnings of $117,000.

In the Sorority row races earlier, Concealedwithakiss was never headed as she cruised to a two-length score under Angel Serpa, stepping the six furlongs over a fast main track in 1:11.41.

The winner retuned $15.40, $7 and $4.40 and topped a $59.80 exacta. Post-time favorite Coco’s Wildcat, who
was a stakes winner at Gulfstream Park last out, settled for second, paying $3.80 and $3. It was a neck back to Comforter, who paid $4.20 to show.

“I know there was a lot of other speed in the race, but my filly showed me so much last time,” said Serpa. “She showed so much speed going five furlongs and today going six I knew as long as she broke well I’d let her run.

She’s a really good filly, really fast.”

A 2-year-old daughter of Political Force from the Chief Seattle mare Bold Outlook, Concealedwithakiss was bred in Kentucky by River Glen Capital and Meritage Racing. She is a perfect 2-for-2, banking $57,540 for her connections.

Stonetastic wins G2 Prioress @ Saratoga

Stonetastic turned an evenly matched race on paper into a runaway victory on the track, registering a powerful 8 1/2-length score in the $300,000 Prioress Stakes (gr. II) from Saratoga Race Course Aug. 30.

Read Original Article from Blood-Horse

Stonetastic romps in the Prioress StakesSent right to the front by jockey Paco Lopez, the gray daughter of Mizzen Mast never looked back for her first stakes victory, winning for the third time from seven career starts for Stoneway Farm.

Miss Behaviour, runner-up in the Aug. 2 Test Stakes (gr. I), held on for second again by a neck as the 2-1 favorite, edging out Southern Honey. The final time for the six furlong test was 1:08.88.

“She’s fast,” said trainer Kelly Breen, whose father passed away last week. “Paco came back and said she did it easy. I’m happy for all the connections. She ran great. Paco said he didn’t whip her. I don’t know what else to say, she went in 1:08 and four, and did it the right way. We’re happy to be here.”

In August of last year, Stonetastic broke her maiden by 12 1/2 lengths in her debut at Monmouth Park for Breen, who saddled his first winner in 1992.

She went ot finish second in the Sept. 7 Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old, before finishing fourth in the Nov. 3 Tempted Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack.

After finishing third in the Nov. 30 Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill, Stonetastic was put away for the season.

Stonetastic made her 2014 debut in the Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park Jan. 5 where she finished third. She didn’t start again until July 27 when she won an optional claiming race at Monmouth by 6 3/4 lengths before romping in Saturday’s Prioress Stakes.

“I think we are (looking toward the Breeders’ Cuo) today,” said Terri Burch, the racing manager for Stoneway Farm. “We shelved her for a little while in January and brought her home to grow up. This is her second race back for us. But, that’s what we’re looking for. That’s why we were here today, to challenge everyone and see. So we’re excited.”

Stonetastic returned $13, $5.90, and $4.40. Miss Behaviour returned $3.70 and $2.60, while Southern Honey returned $5.10. Tea Time, Who’s in Town, Sweet Whiskey, Princess Violet, and Thirteen Arrows completed the order of finish.

“My filly ran great,” said Phil Schoenthal, who trains Miss Behaviour. “There was no beating the winner.

When entries came out (Stonetastic) was the one I was most afraid of. There’s no shame in defeat, and it’s fun to come up here and give it a shot.”

Stonetastic, who was bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall, Carrie Brogden, and Craig Brodgen, is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Special Me. The Brogdens’ Select Sales agency consigned her to the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale, where Stoneway Farm snagged her for $77,000.

“Itsmyluckyday” outfights Moreno in G1 Woodward

Co-favorites Itsmyluckyday and Moreno battled shoulder to shoulder through the entire length of stretch before Itsmyluckyday prevailed to win the $600,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) by half a length at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 30.

Read Original Article from Blood-Horse

With the victory, his first in a grade I, Itsmyluckyday turned the tables on Moreno after finishing second to the front-runner in the Whitney Invitational (gr. I) Aug. 2.

Itsmyluckyday fights off Moreno to win the Woodward.The victory also culminated a season-long comeback for Itsmyluckyday after fracturing his pelvis in a race last year.

Junior Alvarado, the rider aboard Moreno, lodged a complaint against Paco Lopez and Itsmyluckyday after the two horses bumped repeatedly in the final furlong. Stewards reviewed the stretch run and ruled there would be no change in the order of finish.

“I got bumped four or five times,” complained Alvarado, saying Moreno lost his action in deep stretch. “My horse was running good and kept getting bumped. In the last part, he got bumped and pulled himself out of the race.”

“(Moreno) came over and bumped into my horse,” countered Lopez. “I didn’t bump that horse.” Eddie Plesa Jr. trains Itsmyluckyday for Trilogy Stable and his wife, Laurie Plesa. The dark bay colt is a 4-year-old son of Lawyer Ron bred in Kentucky by Rob Whiteley’s Liberation Farm and Pam and Jim Robinson’s Brandywine Farm out of the Doneraile Court mare Viva La Slew.

“It’s like when you have a child that does something out of the ordinary, exceptional, that you know he could do; that’s what it felt like,” Plesa said after his first Woodward win. “I mean, horses aren’t your children, but we take great pride in our horses; we take great pride in our craft. He did what he needed to do in a manner nobody would dispute was spot on, or that he was the best horse today.”

Itsmyluckyday, the slight second choice behind Moreno at odds of 5-2, paid $7.70 to win while completing the 1 1//8-mile distance in a time of 1:48.84 on a fast track.

Prayer for Relief finished third in the field of nine older horses. Moreno, as expected took the lead shortly after the break but Itsmyluckyday, adding blinkers for the first time while breaking from the rail, did not let the pacesetter get far away. The coupled entry of Long River and Romansh also stalked the leaders as Moreno stepped quarter mile fractions of :24.01, :47.41, and 1:10.94 for the first six furlongs.

With Prayer for Relief advancing into third around the far turn, Moreno, with Itsmyluckyday gradually left the others behind and it came down to those two as they fought it out through the lane. There was very little between the two rivals after coming together just past the eighth pole, completing the mile in 1:35.53. But in the final couple of strides, Itsmyluckyday, under right-handed urging from Lopez, gained the slight edge.

Plesa added blinkers because he felt Itsmyluckyday was losing focus at key points of his recent races, including the Whitney. He said the move worked out.

“We didn’t want to give Moreno a breather,” the trainer said. “We didn’t want to have to depend on anybody else, and the outcome was Moreno ran a fantastic race. He just came up a little bit short today against us under different circumstances, and I think they’re two great horses.”

Plesa said he was not concerned about possibly being disqualified. “No, not at all. It never, never entered my mind,” he said. “I didn’t think there was a chance in the world.”

Eric Guillot, trainer of Moreno, said he wasn’t sure who was to blame for the bumping. “The horse ran his race,” he said of Moreno. “Sometimes you run second, sometimes you win. It was Eddie’s turn.

My horse is consistent. He ran his race. What are you going to do? Go to bed, rest, get up in the morning and start all over again.”

It was 1 1/2 lengths back to Prayer in Relief in third, followed by 3-1 third choice Zivo, the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) winner whose six-race winning streak was halted. Then came Stephanoatsee, Last Gunfighter, Long River, Romansh, and Norumbega. Micromanage scratched.

Since winning a minor stakes at Gulfstream Park in April, Itsmyluckyday has won four of his past five starts, the only loss coming by 1 1/4 lengths to Moreno in the Whitney. Itsmyluckyday stalked the winner that day as well but could not quite close the gap.

Last year Itsmyluckyday won the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) before finishing second in the Florida Derby (gr. I). After a 15th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), he bounced back with a fine second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). After skipping the Belmont he returned in the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III) last June at Monmouth Park when he pulled up with what was later determined to be a cracked pelvis. Itsmyluckyday was out of action until this March when he returned with a fourth-place effort in the Gulfstream

Park Handicap (gr. II), and he has been nearly unbeatable since. He captured the Salvatore Mile (gr. III) in his start prior to the Whitney at his home track, Monmouth. With his latest win, which was his sixth stakes victory, Itsmyluckyday improved his career line to 9-4-1 in 19 races with earnings of $1,662,600.

“I told the owners, the partners, ‘Get tied on. This is going to be as exciting a second half of the year as last year was the first half of the year,’ ” Plesa said. “So, between last year’s first half and this year’s second half, we’re going to have a great year.”

Carrying 120 pounds, Itsmyluckyday paid $7.70, $3.70, and $3, keying a chalky $22.80 exacta with Moreno, who returned $4.20 and $3. Prayer for Relief paid $6 to show.

Itsmyluckyday is the second foal produced by his dam Viva La Slew, selling for $47,000 as a Keeneland September yearling purchase by Nick J. Hines, agent in 2011. Plesa purchased Itsmyluckyday for $110,000 for David Melin from the consignment of Eisaman Equine, agent, at the 2012 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s March 2-year-old sale.

Itsmyluckyday wins the $600,000 G1 Woodward @ Saratoga

When trainer Eddie Plesa left Saratoga the day after the Whitney Handicap, after his horse, Itsmyluckyday, had finished second to Moreno, he was already looking forward to the rematch.

Read Original Article from Daily Racing Form

Itsmyluckyday, ridden by Paco Lopez, overtakes Moreno in deep stretch of the Woodward Stakes />“I wouldn’t trade places with anybody,” Plesa said as he drove back to New Jersey and his base at Monmouth Park. On Saturday, Plesa and Itsmyluckyday got their revenge on Moreno, taking it to him in the early stages of the Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward Stakes and having enough to outfinish him late to prevail by one-half length before a crowd of 29,244 at Saratoga.

Itsmyluckyday had to withstand a claim of foul lodged by Junior Alvarado, the rider of Moreno, for a bumping incident in the stretch but the stewards deemed there was insufficient reason for disqualification.

The victory was the ninth from 19 starts for Itsmyluckyday, owned by Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa, and his first in a Grade 1. It was also the first Grade 1 win for jockey Paco Lopez, who earlier on the card won the Grade 2 Prioress aboard New Jersey shipper Stonetastic.

“It’s like when you have a child that does something out of the ordinary that you know he could do, that’s what it felt like,” Plesa said of Itsmyluckyday’s victory. “Horses aren’t your children, but we take great pride in our horses, we take great pride in our craft. He did what he needed to do in a manner that nobody would dispute was spot on and he was the best horse today.”

Plesa equipped Itsmyluckyday with blinkers for the first time on Saturday, hoping to keep his 4- year-old son of Lawyer Ron more focused. In the Whitney, he had veered in and out in the stretch.

Plesa did not want Moreno to get an uncontested lead as had been the case in the Whitney. While Moreno did get the early lead, Lopez had Itsmyluckyday within two lengths of Moreno through a quarter in 24.01 seconds, a half-mile in 47.41, and six furlongs in 1:10.84.

Itsmyluckyday was within a half-length at the top of the stretch and the stage was set for a stirring stretch drive.

The two horses were alongside each other from the three-sixteenths pole to the wire but when Alvarado switched to his left-handed stick, it Moreno came out and initiated contact with Itsmyluckyday, who ultimately came back and bumped Moreno late.

According to Braulio Baeza, the New York Racing Association steward, once Alvarado switched to his left-handed stick, “his horse carried [Itsmyluckyday] wide and he made the initial contact.”

Naturally, Alvarado didn’t see it that way. “I got bumped four or five times,” Alvarado said. “I probably should have thrown myself on the ground to see if he would have got disqualified in this race. It’s unbelievable.”

Lopez, said, “I think the other horse come over and bump into my horse. I didn’t bump into his horse. He took a shot and claimed foul.”

Plesa gave Lopez credit for “a perfect ride.”

“He did what we had talked about. We didn’t want to give Moreno a breather. We didn’t want to have to depend on anyone else,” Plesa said. “And the outcome was Moreno ran a fantastic race and he just came up a little bit short under different circumstances and I think they’re two great horses.”

Itsmyluckyday covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.84 and returned $7.70 as the second choice. Moreno, the slight 5-2 favorite, finished second by 1 1/2 lengths over Prayer for Relief, who was followed, in order, by Stephanoatsee, Last Gunfighter, Long River, Romansh, and Norumbega.

Paco Lopez “Best of the Best”

Growing up in virtual poverty in his native Veracruz, Mexico, Pascacio Lopez, known better as Paco, always dreamed of becoming a top Thoroughbred jockey.

Read Original Article from The Racing Biz

Bern Identity and Paco Lopez roll through the gloaming to win the My Frenchman at Monmouth. Photo By Bill DenverSo Lopez left his home and family at the age of 12 to work on a ranch to be close to horses. Soon after, he was given the opportunity to ride quarter horses. By the time he was 16, he was dominating the small circuit-quarter horse tracks and once won an astounding 13 straight races.

Now, a little more than a decade later, Lopez is living that lifelong dream. Lopez is clearly the top jockey at Monmouth Park — and it’s not even close. Lopez won the riding title at Monmouth Park in 2013, winning 99 races and earning $3 million in purses, but that was just a prep for this season. Now, he is running away with the race for top riding honors this season.

Through Aug. 24, Lopez has been aboard 109 winners and collected nearly $3 million in purses. His closest competitor is Orlando Bocachica, who has 43 victories this season. It’s almost unfathomable that one jockey could hold a 66-win lead in the jockey standings at any race track, never mind a highly competitive and respected staple such as Monmouth Park.

What’s even more incredible is that Lopez has broken the Monmouth Park record for wins in a single card with seven — and he’s accomplished that twice this meet, on May 17 and again on June 11.

Those seven-win days broke the mark that was first set by Walter Blum in 1961 and tied several times by racing giants like Chris Antley, Julie Krone and “Jersey” Joe Bravo, who won six races on four occasions.

With Bravo now concentrating on the New York circuit, Lopez has made himself a home in Oceanport, New Jersey. In fact, three weeks ago, Lopez bought a home just a few miles away from Monmouth Park. The nearly 28-year-old Lopez isn’t going anywhere soon.

A thankful Paco Lopez after the Oceanport. You’d think, with more than 100 wins at the meet, he’d be used to this by now! Photo by The Racing Biz.“I’m comfortable here,” Lopez said in a telephone interview, assisted by interpreter and handler Walter Cicero. “I like this place. It’s a comfortable place. I don’t know how long I’m going to stay here, but I would prefer to stay here.”

Lopez has also supplanted Bravo as the fan favorite of Monmouth Park bettors. Of course, the top owners and trainers have now sought out Lopez to ride their horses, but he’s also a general fan favorite as well.

“I just try to make everyone happy,” Lopez said. “I come here and try to win the big races.” Trainer Eddie Plesa knows that Lopez is in high demand now, and he’s glad to have Lopez ride several of the prized horses in his barn, including Itsmyluckyday, who has won three stakes races this year with Lopez in the saddle and finished second to Moreno in the Grade I Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Aug. 2.

Plesa, who has called Monmouth home for his horses for more than three decades, said he’s never seen any jockey dominate Monmouth the way Lopez has done this summer.

“He’s an outstanding rider,” Plesa said. “He has all the tools. He has outstanding work ethic. It’s like a perfect storm, with everything all coming together at the right time. If you’re a jockey, right now, you want to be like Paco Lopez.”

Plesa said that he has been giving Lopez the chance to ride ever since Lopez earned the Eclipse Award as the Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 2008.

“I’ve been using him ever since he was a bug boy,” Plesa said. “I always had faith in his ability as a jockey. But he’s come a long way. You can see how far he’s grown, as a rider, as a person. He’s more mature now. A lot of others might have that success and it goes to their head. Not with Paco. He’s level-headed. He’s a family man. He still takes care of his family, sending money home. He has the perfect temperament now.”

That wasn’t exactly the case when Lopez started out. “He was aggressive and fearless,” Plesa said. “He bordered on being reckless.” When he first came to the United States to ride as an apprentice jockey six years ago, Lopez used to take serious chances as a rider. His dangerous approach drew him six different suspensions from Florida stewards.

But it didn’t deter Lopez from piling up 229 wins in tracks across the country during that 2008 campaign, earning nearly $4 million in purses as the top “bug boy” in the nation. Most of those victories came at Calder Race Course.

“He’s learned from past mistakes,” Plesa said. “He did what he needed to do to be a top jockey. He’s more mature now and polished. You can see it now. It all shows. He’s now among the very best of the best. He more than holds his own.”

In 2014, Lopez has ridden an even 200 winners with over $6.2 million in purse earnings, ranking him 14th among all jockeys in the country in earnings. He now has 1,484 career victories, an astounding number for someone so young. His horses have earned more than $44 million. Lopez’s top year at Monmouth was in 2010 when he guided 113 horses into the winner’s circle.

Barring injury or another catastrophe, Lopez is likely to shatter that mark this season. “I didn’t think that I could win so many races this year,” Lopez said. “I thought I did pretty good last year, but I never dreamed I could win this much. You never know that you’re going to get a chance to win seven in one day and I did it twice this year. I’m very proud of that. I’m just a lucky jockey. I always believed that it’s 90 percent horse and 10 percent the jockey. It feels great to be the top jockey again here (at Monmouth Park).”

Lopez is branching out and displaying his talents elsewhere, as well. Last Friday, August 22, Lopez
and Bern Identity captured the Tale of the Cat Stakes for trainer Kelly Breen at Saratoga. Bern Identity, who was off from January of 2013 until the beginning of August 2014, has now won two stakes in two tries since returning.

“I’m not worried about the chance to go race in New York,” Lopez said. “I would prefer to stay here. I absolutely worked hard and would do anything to get to this point.”

Lopez and Itsmyluckyday take the G3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth. Photo By Bill Denver“He works so hard,” Plesa said. “I keep telling him to take some time off, take at least one morning off. But he’s up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and working horses for everyone. He goes to Delaware Park and wins, goes to Philadelphia Park [Parx Racing] and wins, goes to Saratoga and wins. He’ll go anywhere to ride a horse. He has a lot of energy. He’s an amazing young man.”

Plesa said that he’s glad that Lopez has settled down and made a home in New Jersey. “He has chosen this route,” said Plesa, who is a native of New Jersey and makes his home near Monmouth. “He likes the lifestyle here. It’s a nice area. He’s happy with being a big fish in a smaller pond. But I never thought this was possible, what he’s done this year. Joe (Bravo) had a nice career here, but nothing ever like this. Paco deserves this. He’s worked very hard, day and night. He doesn’t mind riding a whole card. He’s got it all right here.”

Needless to say, Lopez is living the dream. Almost 28, he has plenty of years left to ride and in the
case like this summer, dominate the winner’s circle.

“It’s all better than I could have imagined,” Lopez said.

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