Apprentice Jockey Eclipse: Paco Lopez

Pascacio “Paco” Lopez burst onto the South Florida riding scene in 2008, causing as much of a stir with his controversial style as he did with his superior skills.

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Despite his aggressive riding, which prompted the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to suspend him on six different occasions, there was no denying his talent. The 23-year-old earned the Eclipse Award while guiding 171 winners, more than any other apprentice jockey in the nation. Lopez earned $2,629,253 as a “bug boy.”

Most of Lopez’ victories came at Calder Race Course, where he captured the summer meet jockeys’ title with 161 wins (141 as an apprentice) despite missing 13 days on suspension. Of those wins, 14 came in stakes races, including mounts on 2009 Triple Crown contender Big Drama, who swept the Florida Stallion Stakes Series. Early this seaon, Lopez guided 30 winners at Gulfstream Park, tying him for 11th place while debuting as a journeyman rider.

As impressively, Lopez continued his success after losing his apprentice status Sept. 9. He went on to win 58 more races the rest of the year and finished 2008 with more than $3.9 million in earnings.

“He’s an exciting rider and just a natural,” said Lopez’s agent, Cory Moran, who has represented some of the top apprentice jockeys, including 1998 Eclipse winner Shaun Bridgmohan. “You don’t see too many continue to dominate after they lose their bug, but he did. All the top trainers want him. He’s going to be a force for a long time.”

Lopez is from a small town near Tierra Blanca, Mexico, where he grew up in poverty. At 12, he left home to work on a ranch and began riding Quarter Horses a short time later. By the time he was a teenager, Lopez was dominating action at bush tracks, and according to Moran, Loopez once won all 13 races in a single weekend.

In 2006 Lopez moved to the United States to pursue his dream of riding professionally. He began working horses at Palm Meadows the following year, and before long trainers noticed his talent. Lopez won his first professional race on July 13, 2007 at Calder.

After finishing the Gulfstream winter meet in 2009, Moran said Lopez will likely head up north to begin riding full-time in New Jersey and New York.

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