Archive for the ‘Jockey Paco Lopez’ Category.

Tiz Possible Dear comes off the bench to win Millions Distaff

MIAMI – It came as no surprise that trainer Peter Walder and owner Paradise Farm Corp. won Saturday’s $60,000 Millions Distaff with a filly they recently added to the barn via the claim box. After all, when the entries came out, the red-hot Cory Gal looked like one of the top contenders, perhaps the favorite, in the six-furlong dash for Florida-bred fillies and mares.

In the end, however, it was not Cory Gal posing in the winner’s circle after the race but Tiz Possible Dear, who proved a very capable substitute for her stablemate, who had to be scratched from the Distaff due to a minor foot issue. Tiz Possible Dear wired the field under jockey Paco Lopez to register a 2 1/2-length decision over the recently graded stakes-placed Sound Machine.

Walder had claimed Cory Gal for $25,000 out of a one-sided victory on Sept. 12 at Gulfstream Park. He acquired Tiz Possible Dear via the same route six days earlier for a bargain $16,000, also out of a winning effort at Gulfstream.

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“She was kind of obvious off her form and had run a big number on the Ragozin sheets the start prior to when we claimed her, and my owner is a big sheets guy,” Walder said of claiming Tiz Possible Dear. “But we didn’t claim her with this race in mind. The thought was to run her back against first-level statebred company.”

Tiz Possible Dear finished sixth going five furlongs over a sloppy track in her first start for her new connections before bouncing back with a 1 3/4-length decision over similar company on a wet strip when stretched to 6 1/2 furlongs 22 days later.

“I ran her back too short and probably too quick the first time,” Walder said. “Even after she won her next start, I really had no intention of entering her in the Distaff. But the racing office said the nominations were coming up light for the race, so I nominated and ultimately entered her for protection in case something happened to Cory Gal, who probably would have been the favorite the way she’d won her last two.”

Walder said he was so distraught once he realized he had to scratch Cory Gal that he almost passed the Distaff with Tiz Possible Dear as well.

“Not only did I have a foot issue with Cory Gal, I have one with Fast Pass, who I also train for Paradise, and which is going to keep him out of the Claiming Crown, which we’ve pointed to since the spring,” Walder said. “Fortunately, Tom Flynn, who serves as racing manager for Paradise, told me to quit being depressed about the one who wasn’t running Saturday and worry about the one who still can. After looking at the race, I realized Tiz Possible Dear was lone speed, and when the track came up wet, which I knew she loves, it was a no-brainer to run her.”

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Walder said he is uncertain what will be next for Tiz Possible Dear, citing the Dec. 5 Claiming Crown at Gulfstream Park as an option.

“We’ll look at the sheet numbers for the race and go from there,” Walder said. “She may also be eligible for a straight one-other-than allowance race as well. Unfortunately, there is no Sunshine Millions Distaff this year, so that is not an option.”

Seven go in allowance

The penultimate week of the Gulfstream Park West meeting kicks off with an eight-race card Wednesday topped by a $38,000 first-level allowance race for Florida-bred fillies and mares going six furlongs on the main track. The race drew a wide-open field of seven, with both Sunset Empire and Uncaptured Ruby bringing modest two-race win streaks into the race.

Sunset Empire is coming off an easy 2 1/4-length victory over open $12,500 claiming opposition in a race moved from the turf to the main track, making her perfect in two starts over the local strip. Uncaptured Ruby ships down from Monmouth Park, where she won each of her last two starts by a neck against $12,500 conditioned-claiming opposition.

Softer Spot Helps Premier Star Find Winner’s Circle In Jersey Shore

If Premier Star’s solid showing in his last race wasn’t enough to convince trainer Michael Trombetta that the colt was sitting on a breakout performance, his recent works erased any doubts.

Those two indicators proved to be spot on.

Able to squeeze through an opening after three-eighths of a mile to take the lead, Premier Star powered his way to an impressive 4 3/4-length victory in Wednesday’s $100,000 Jersey Shore Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.

One race after finishing four lengths behind Yaupon, a top contender for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint trained by Steve Asmussen, and two lengths behind multiple Grade 1 winner Basin in the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga on Aug. 29, Premier Star dispatched his six rivals with ease.

Winning time for the six furlongs was a sharp 1:09.61.

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“This horse has trained really well,” said Trombetta. “I was a little concerned when (Paco) squeezed up the inside and it looked like he might have room, and then you’re thinking maybe not, but he was able to get through and grab the spot and the lead, which he wanted. He’s a pretty fast horse. These type of horses don’t like to be checked or steadied. They just don’t recover from that a lot of times. I’m glad (Paco) was able to make it work.

“As tough as his last race was and as well as he ran in my mind that day they still have to run. Every horse race is a different race. A lot of things have to go right to win them. Today was his day.”

Owned by Sonata Stable, the son of Tapiture improved to 4-for-7 lifetime with his first stakes score. Longshot Johnny Ritt held second, a neck ahead of Meru.

Lopez made the winning move by squeezing through an opening down the backside as Johnny Ritt and As Seen On TV dueled through an opening quarter of :22.09, with Premier Star just off of them.

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“He’s a big horse and a couple of them broke faster than he did but he was running once he got going,” said Lopez. “I guess it was about the three-eighths that I had to decide to go outside or inside and I saw room on the rail and I took and he went right to the lead. He was very strong today.”

Once Premier Star made the lead he started extending his advantage through an opening half in :44.74. He returned $4.20 to win.

“I knew he ran against some monsters last race but I was surprised the instructions were to send him. But they know him. They know how he likes to race,” said Lopez. “Once he made the lead no one was catching him.”

Premier Star now has two wins and a third in the four starts for Trombetta, who took over the horse’s training from Jorge Navarro this spring.

Racing resumes at Monmouth Park with a 10-race card on Saturday, Oct. 17. First race post time is 12:50 p.m. ET.

Breen Wins First Monmouth Training Title Since 2006; Paco Lopez Top Rider, Klaravich Stables Leading Owner

Kelly Breen celebrated his return to the top of the Monmouth Park trainer standings after a 14-year absence by winning both stakes races during the final day of the Oceanport, N.J., track’s 75th season on Sunday.

The 51-year-old New Jersey native led the trainers’ race virtually from the start of the meet in claiming his third Monmouth Park training title. He was also the track’s leading trainer in 2005 and 2006.

Paco Lopez was the leading rider for the seventh time, with Klaravich Stables finishing as the leading owner.

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The Thoroughbred season in New Jersey will continue with the onset of the nine-day Meadowlands-at-Monmouth Park meet beginning Saturday, Oct. 3 (Preakness Day). After also racing Sunday, Oct. 4, the live racing schedule for the month will switch to the next three Wednesdays and Saturdays through Oct. 24. There will also be a holiday card on Monday, Oct. 12.

The Meadowlands-at-Monmouth Park meet will feature a stakes race every live racing day, highlighted by the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes at nine furlongs on the turf on Oct. 10.

Breen, who put the finishing touches on his title-winning season with a three-victory afternoon, saw promising 2-year-old Pickin’ Time surge late for a nose victory over Dalton in the $75,000 Smoke Glacken Stakes. That was followed by a half-length score in gate-to-wire fashion by Like What I See in the $75,000 Joey P. Handicap at five furlongs on the grass.

Breen finished with 32 victories during the 36-day meet. That easily outdistanced runner-up Jose H. Delgado, who had 17 wins.

“It means a lot,” said Breen. “To think back to when I last won the title 14 years ago to today, I lost both of my parents over that time and today would have been my mom’s birthday. So it’s special. I felt like I had a little angel on my shoulder this meet.

“This is a prestigious meet. Monmouth Park is a high-end track and to be the leading trainer at a top tier track is a significant accomplishment. It means a lot to me, to my barn and to my assistants. We work hard for things like this.”

Lopez, who won his first Monmouth Park riding title in 2010, has been the track’s dominant jockey for the past decade in terms of wins. He finished with 51 victories, nine more than co-runner-up Ferrin Peterson. Joe Bravo was third with 41 winners.

Lopez’ seven titles are second all-time to Bravo’s 13.

“I’m feeling very lucky. I’ve been coming here almost every year for the past 10 years and it’s still exciting to be leading rider,” he said. “I’m doing what I can to follow Joe Bravo, but 13 titles … that’s a big number.

“I enjoy being here and it makes it even better when you have success at a place you like.”

Though based in New York, Klaravich Stables had a successful Monmouth Park meet, winning eight times from 15 starters to edge out Colts Neck Stables by one victory for leading owner honors.

Warrior’s Charge Wins Iselin Via Disqualification

Trainer Brad Cox knows full well how tough graded stakes victories are to come by, so he will take the one by Warrior’s Charge via disqualification in Saturday’s Grade 3 $200,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park and move on.

With the stewards ruling that first-place finisher Pirate’s Punch came in and intimidated Warrior’s Charge late in the race at the Oceanport, N.J., track, Cox’s horse earned the second graded stakes victory of his career after being placed first.

The 1 1/16-mile Iselin, reduced to a four-horse field after scratches, was essentially a two-horse race with Pirate’s Punch, ridden by Jorge Vargas, Jr., and Warrior’s Charge, handled by Paco Lopez, running neck and neck around the racetrack.

Pirate’s Punch took a slight advantage in mid-stretch before starting to come over inside the sixteenth pole, with Warrior’s Charge battling along the rail.

With 30 yards to go, Lopez stood straight up in the irons and effectively stopped riding, finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind the Grant Forster-trained Pirate’s Punch. It was another three-quarters of a length back to Bal Harbour.

Final time for the mile and a sixteenth was 1:43.37.

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“He (Pirate’s Punch) came in on me pretty good,” said Lopez. “I had to steady because of him. I had to completely stand up and stop riding. He came over. I think the stewards did the right thing. I had to completely stop riding my horse. I think my horse was still trying hard.

“I think if had a little room he would have come back to win because he’s a fighter. You can see on the head-on how it bothered us and why I had to stop riding. That hole was there and then it closed very quickly when that horse came over on us.”

Gulliver Racing’s Phil Bongiovanni, co-owner of Pirate’s Punch, saw it differently.

Warrior’s Charge, who started his 4-year-old campaign by winning the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park, earned his fifth victory in 11 career starts. The son of Munnings-Battling Brook by Broken Vow is owned by Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stables LLC.

“Paco had the horse where he needed to be, up close or on the lead,” said Cox. “Pirate’s Punch took off after us and I thought we were able to battle back and get in front of him but I’m not sure he ever did, even though he hung in there with him. Maybe we were going to come back. Obviously the stewards thought we were. We were fortunate to come out on the front end of this. The horse that crossed the wire first ran a tremendous race. I honestly thought he was a horse to contend with and he obviously was.

“It’s strange, because a couple of more jumps and we’re probably third. It was an unfortunate way to win a race, I guess you could say. But we’ll take. Now we’ll see how he comes out of it.”

Cox said his ultimate goal with Warrior’s Charge is the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland on Nov. 7. He hopes to find one more race before then.

“He will ship back to Kentucky tomorrow and we’ll see how he is,” he said. “I think we’ll look at one more race (before the Breeders’ Cup Mile) but we’ll see how he comes out of this first.”

Warrior’s Charge paid $3 to win as the 1-2 favorite, dueling with Pirate’s Punch through fractions of :24.10 for the opening quarter, :47.46 for the half, 1:11.17 for three quarters of a mile and 1:36.61 for the mile. They were never separated by more than a half-length until the incident in deep stretch.

CHALON TAKES RAINY INCREDIBLE REVENGE STAKES

As pleased as trainer Arnaud Delacour was to see Chalon come off the also eligible list when Sunday’s Incredible Revenge Stakes at Monmouth Park was taken off the turf, he wasn’t sure about how his classy mare would respond to a track as sloppy as this one wound up being.

Turns out, Chalon handled that much like she does everything else: With a top-notch effort.

Bolting to the front from the far outside post in the reduced field of five in the 5½-furlong dash, Chalon breezed to a one-length victory over Bronx Beauty, with Delacour now setting his sights on getting an elusive graded stakes victory for the 6-year-old daughter of Dialed In-Fall Fantasy by Menifee.

Chalon, supplemented to the Incredible Revenge, now sports a 9-7-1 line from 21 career starts and inched closer to becoming a millionaire with the $45,000 winner’s share of the $75,000 purse boosting her career earnings to $971,895.

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After a rare clunker in her seasonal debut on June 27 at Belmont Park, when she was a badly-beaten sixth, Chalon has now won two straight.

“She’s a really neat mare,” said Delacour. “When we brought her back at Belmont this year she didn’t like the track, it was a little deep, and she was pinched inside. That’s the only time she didn’t fire. But other than that she shows up. I was glad we were able to get into the race after it came off the turf but the question mark was the track. She has never run on a sloppy track. So going in you don’t know.”

Chalon, ridden by Paco Lopez, quickly shook off any early challenges and controlled the race through fractions of :22.74 to the quarter and :46.40 to the half. Final time for the 5½ furlongs was 1:05.32.

“She had a lot of early speed today,” said Lopez. “I normally want to be second or third early with her but she wanted the lead. She was like a bullet today so I just let her go.

“I know her very well. I have won a couple of good races with her but this is the first time she wanted to lead this early. It was a short field and we weren’t sure about the slop so I just let her go. She handled it very well. She’s a nice mare. Very consistent. She tries very hard all the time.”

Though Chalon has been graded stakes-placed multiple times – including a near miss in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, when she was beaten a head in the Grade 1 race — that first graded stakes victory has escaped her so far.

“The hope is we can finally get her a graded stakes win,” said Delacour. “So we will point her to the (Grade 2) Honorable Miss at Saratoga (on Sept. 6).”

Chalon, owned by Lael Stables, returned $3.40 as the favorite. Sunny Dale finished third, 1¼ lengths behind Bronx Beauty.

‘Classy horse’ Sacred Life bests tough field in Monmouth’s Oceanport

In a field that featured four graded stakes winners and a millionaire, Sacred Life – who is neither yet – proved he belongs in that company.

The Chad Brown-trainee stormed home with a rousing stretch run under Paco Lopez and easily drew off to a four-length victory in Sunday’s $100,000 Oceanport Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Idle since a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational on Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park, Sacred Life showed no ill effects from the layoff, easily besting eight rivals in the 73rd edition of the mile-and-a-sixteenth grass race for 3-year-olds-and up.

“I wasn’t worried about that (the layoff),” said Luis Cabrera, who oversees Brown’s string at Monmouth Park. “He’s a very classy horse. He knows what to do and he knows where the wire is. He beat a good field. This was a tough race. But this is a good horse, a very classy horse.”

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Bred in France, the 5-year-old son of Siyouni-Knyazhna by Montjeu came to Brown from Europe a year ago. In five starts in the United States, he has twice raced against Grade 2 competition and once in a Grade 1.

The Oceanport field consisted of graded stakes winners Synchrony, Hawkish, Eons and Thread of Blue, with the latter having banked more than $1 million in his career.

Hawkish rallied for second, with early pace setter Irish Strait finishing a nose back in third. Time for the mile and a sixteenth over a turf course listed as “good” was 1:42.13.

Lopez, injured in a spill on Saturday’s card that saw the track’s leading rider transported to the hospital, sat patiently in mid-pack with Sacred Life before getting a clear run in the stretch, with track announcer Frank Mirahmadi saying it appeared the horse was “shot out of a cannon” with his eye-catching late move.

At the quarter pole Sacred Life, the 6-5 second choice, was fifth by 3½ lengths.

Lopez said it was just a matter of staying clear and letting the horse do what he does, especially since he was still hurting from his mishap.

“I’m a little sore. My elbow is a little bruised,” said Lopez, who won four races on the card. “I’m very lucky that I am able to come back quickly and then to ride a nice horse like this in a stakes race. He was ready today. I know he’s a classy horse. I just wanted to get some position in the first turn, let him settle and wait. I took him outside because the turf is a little harder there than it is inside.

“I was waiting for (Synchrony, the 11-10 favorite in the betting) but he never showed up, so I just wanted to get my horse clear. I held him as long as could, but he really wanted to go. He showed how much he wanted to run with the way he closed.”

Owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables LLC, Wonder Stables and Bethlehem Stables LLC, Sacred Life returned $4.40 to win.

The victory was his sixth in 15 career starts. He also has six seconds.

Vanzzy makes Jersey Derby third stakes victory

Vanzzy scored the third stakes victory of his career with help from a ground-saving, well-timed ride from Monmouth Park leading rider Paco Lopez, taking the $100,000 Jersey Derby for 3-year-olds on the turf on Sunday.

Vanzzy ($7.20), who had been on the lead in his prior race, found some cover and saved ground along the inside early, never more thn two lengths off the lead. Graded stakes winner Island Commish took the field through an opening six furlongs in a moderate 1:13.16 on a turf course officially rated firm.

Vanzzy found room along the rail turning for home and shot through to take command in upper stretch. He continued to draw clear from there, hitting the wire 3 1/2 lengths in front.

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“[Trainer Michael Pino] left it up to me, but he said this horse can be on the lead if you need him to be,” Lopez said. “The turf course isn’t really fast – it’s a little soft. I was just so comfortable with him being on the rail and following horses. I just had to wait for the chance to move. He really responded when he got through and was able to run.”

Vanzzy finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.30.

Bye Bye Melvin, who had tracked the pace in second throughout, gamely held off a late run from favored Irish Mias to be second by three-quarters of a length.

Vanzzy, a Verrazano colt who is trained by Pino for owner Daniel Ryan, added the Jersey Derby to two stakes victories on synthetic tracks, as he took the Display Stakes last December at Woodbine and the Rushaway Stakes in March at Turfway Park. He finished third in the Grade 3 Kent Stakes on July 4 on the Delaware Park turf, and was also stakes-placed on dirt as a juvenile.

“This was his best race yet,” Pino said. “You can see he is getting better with each race, especially when we can get him to settle like we did. I have to think about what is next for him, but maybe the [Grade 3] Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs [on Aug. 29]. We’ll play it by ear. He has become a real solid horse.”

Horologist improves to 5-for-5 at Monmouth with Molly Pitcher win

New Jersey-bred Horologist loves the Garden State. Back at Monmouth Park–where she was a three-time winner last summer–Horologist improved to 5-for-5 overall on the Jersey Shore main track when running down longshot front-runner Our Super Freak in the stretch to win the $250,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park on Saturday.

Horologist was making her first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott after spending the first half of this season with Richard Baltas. She capped off a big day for Mott, who about 30 minutes earlier won the $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) with Paris Lights at Saratoga.

Ridden by Joe Bravo — who also won the Grade 1 United Nations earlier on the card with Aquaphobia — Horologist stalked fractions of :23.64 and :47.09 for the opening half mile set by dueling longshots Our Super Freak and Winning Color in the 1 1/16 miles Molly Pitcher. Horologist took aim at the leaders at the three-eighths pole and after six furlongs in 1:11.32, drew on even terms with Our Super Freak at the top of the stretch.

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While Our Super Freak continued on gamely, Horologist edged in front of that rival late and pulled clear to win by about two lengths in a final time of 1:43.84. Our Super Freak was followed across the wire by 3-2 favorite Royal Flag and Sweet Sami D.

Horologist, who is owned by Cameron Beatty’s There’s a Chance Parkland Thoroughbreds, paid $9.40 as the 7-2 fourth choice in the wagering. She’s a Julie, who was exiting a win in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on June 13, was never a factor.

This is the second stakes win for Horologist, who last year won the Monmouth Oaks (G3) while with trainer John F. Mazza. Previously this season, the daughter of Gemologist was off the board in both the La Canada (G3) at Santa Anita and Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn Park, second in the Nellie Morse at Laurel Park and most recently was eased in the May 31 Santa Maria (G2) at Santa Anita.

“Sometimes the horse goes to something new that they’re not familiar with. It’s all a risk, ” Beatty said of the Santa Anita outing. “Me and my partners took the risk. We regrouped and we decided to bring her back to Monmouth Park. We knew she loved it here. She’s 5-for-5 here now. She just loves it here. I love it here. It’s unbelievable that she’s a multiple graded stakes winner now as Jersey-bred. Just a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.”

Nay Lady Nay Gives Brown Another Matchmaker Win

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

There was a graded turf stakes at Monmouth Park July 18, and two fillies trained by Chad Brown dueled through the final sixteenth to finish 1-2.

The specifics this time was that First Row Partners and Hidden Brook Farm’s Nay Lady Nay edged stablemate Beautiful Lover to prevail by a half-length in the $152,500 WinStar Matchmaker Stakes (G3T) to kick off a slate of five graded stakes on the Haskell Day card.

“I was very pleased with both fillies’ efforts,” Brown said from Saratoga Race Couse. “Both got good trips and kicked nicely.”

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The Matchmaker underscored why Brown has been the Eclipse Award-winning trainer for the past four years, and the female turf champ has resided in his barn the past three. Suffice it to say, with Rushing Fall, Newspaperofrecord, Uni, and Sistercharlie in their stalls this year, four champs in a row is hardly out of the question.

Yet when it comes to turf females, Brown’s barn has depth from top to bottom. Nay Lady Nay and Beautiful Lover completed the Matchmaker exacta as the two betting choices in the field of seven.

He also sent out William Lawrence and Bradley Thoroughbreds’ Tapit Today to finish fourth.

Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Tango Uniform Racing’s Feel Glorious was third for trainer Christophe Clement in a race where the owners of the top three finishers can collect on a total value of $50,000 in stallion seasons to WinStar’s Exaggerator, Take Charge Indy, and Yoshida.

The Matchmaker set up nicely for the top two finishers as Tapit Today pressed the pace-setting Valedictorian through a :47.68 opening half-mile, with Nay Lady Nay and Beautiful Lover third and fourth, respectively, on the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile stakes. As the two speedsters weakened in the stretch, Brown’s two runners went by, with 2-1 favorite Nay Lady Nay ($6.40) prevailing to give the 41-year-old trainer his third win in four years in the stakes and fourth in six years.

“She’s a nice filly, and she showed some nice speed,” jockey Paco Lopez said. “Chad has done a great job with her.”

The victory was the fourth in seven starts for the 4-year-old daughter of No Nay Never out of the English Channel mare Lady Ederle who has earned $356,180. Bred in Ireland by Stephen Sullivan, she was bought by Hidden Brook for $210,000 from the Eddie Woods consignment at the 2018 Ocala Breeders’ Sales March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training.

Eighth in the May 30 Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes (G3T) in her only other 2020 start, though she was only beaten by two lengths, Nay Lady Nay closed her 3-year-old campaign with a win in the Mrs. Revere Stakes (G2T).

A full sister to group 2 winner Arizona, Nay Lady Nay is the second grade/group stakes winner from Lady Ederle’s three foals to race.

Her dam also has an unraced 2-year-old filly named Lady Peoria by Estidhkaar.

Paul Pompa Jr. and Gary Tolchin’s 3-1 second choice, Beautiful Lover, a 4-year-old daughter of Arch ridden by Joe Bravo who was fourth in the Gamely Stakes (G1T) in her previous start, finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Feel Glorious, a Bated Breath 4-year-old.

Jockey Paco Lopez Looking Forward To Strong Competition At Monmouth Meet

The competition may change from one summer to the next but the goal never does for Paco Lopez. Once he arrives at Monmouth Park he does so with a single-minded objective: To be the leading rider.

With his right thumb fully healed following surgery on April 14, Lopez has his sights set on a seventh riding title when Monmouth Park’s 75th season of racing gets underway on Friday, July 3.

“I want to try to win it again. I come to Monmouth Park thinking that every year,” said Lopez.

The native of Veracruz, Mexico, notched his sixth Monmouth Park jockey title a year ago, leaving him behind only Joe Bravo (13 titles) in number of titles won at the Jersey Shore oval.

But last year’s finish atop the rider standings at Monmouth Park may have been his most impressive one yet. He didn’t ride at the track until June 15 – six weeks after the meet started. Nik Juarez had built what looked to be a comfortable lead in the standings by then. Lopez caught and passed Juarez on the final weekend of the meet, finishing with 109 victories to Juarez’s 107 in the closest jockey’s race in track history.
The strong finish by Lopez included a victory aboard 14-1 shot Hunter O’Riley in the Grade 1 United Nations.

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“You have to be lucky and stay healthy. But at least this time I will be there from the beginning of the meet, so maybe that will give me an extra advantage,” Lopez said. “I know I will try hard for it. Every year things change so you don’t know what will happen. There are new faces, new clients and new challenges. You have to see what happens.”

Lopez will face some rigorous competition over the 37-day meet, with proven journeyman Victor Carrasaco, the 2013 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, moving his tack from Maryland. Bravo is back as well, as are Juarez and reliable veterans Jose C. Ferrer and Chris DeCarlo, with Antonio Gallardo and Trevor McCarthy adding to the jockey room’s star power. Gallardo, who had 65 mounts at Monmouth last year, has committed to full-time riding after recently capturing the jockey’s title at Tampa Downs.

“The competition is very good this year,” said Lopez. “But I like competition. The competition pushes me.”

Lopez, who has more than 2,800 career wins, is coming off a career year, having set personal bests for victories (283) and earnings ($10.9 million-plus) in 2019.

He still sports a supporting brace on his right hand to help with his surgically-repaired thumb, which he fractured when he was unseated during a race on April 11 at Gulfstream Park. Lopez returned to riding on May 21, finishing third in the standings at the Gulfstream “Championship Meet” with 96 winners.

“I’m fine. I feel good. I’m ready to go,” he said. “I love being here every summer. I keep coming back because I love Monmouth and I love being in New Jersey in the summer. As long as I stay healthy I think it will be a good meet.”

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