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Smooth Air Takes Gulfstream Park Handicap

Mount Joy Stables’ 4-year-old Florida homebred Smooth Air wore down the leaders in the deep stretch of the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) March 14 at Gulfstream Park to score a 1 1/4-length decision over Rolbea Throughbred Racing’s 5-year-old Finallymadeit.

Ridden by Paco Lopez, Smooth Air was making his second start this year after finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita in late October for trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. The son of Smooth Jazzrelaxed off the pace down the backstretch of the one-mile test as Finallymadeit dueled for the lead with Robert Clay’s Formidable before rallying down the outside in the field of six older horses. Formidable held third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up.

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Paco Lopez Wins G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap

Smooth Air captures the Gulfstream Park Handicap at Gulfstream Park Ridden by Paco Lopez.

Paco Lopez Gulfstream Park Handicap

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.

Lopez Wins Apprentice Jockey Eclipse Award

by Laura Pepper

Brought to you by Thoroughbred Times visit them at www.thoroughbredtimes.com.

Former Quarter Horse rider Pascacio “Paco” Lopez is already making his mark in Thoroughbred racing and hopes to continue his success.

In 2008, Lopez finished 16th in North America by wins with 229. He was Gulfstream Park’s leading apprentice and won a riding title at Calder Race Course.

“I didn’t expect to do so well, but thank God everything went well and they gave me the opportunity to do very well,” Lopez said.

Agent Cory Moran has handled Lopez’s book during his championship season, ten years after helping Shaun Bridgmohan win the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice in 1998.

“[Lopez is] a good rider, he saves ground, and he’s one of the better riders I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot of leading riders,” Moran said. “I’m excited about him. I think he’s going to do good, real good.”

Lopez won 13 stakes races in four months at Calder. His favorite moment was riding Big Drama to victory in each of the three divisions of the Florida Stallion Stakes series.

“The biggest part to me was winning the Stallion Stakes, because you can count with your hands how many people have won that,” Lopez said.

Inside Track: A Natural Rider

Walk around Calder Race Course and you’ll keep hearing the word “Paco” from the lips of trainers, bettors, stewards, and other track officials.

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Paco is the nickname for Pascacio Lopez, a 22-year-old native of Mexico who is gaining attention for running away with this season’s riding title and leading the country’s apprentice jockeys in wins. As of Sept. 9, he had 171 wins—including 141 at Calder (28%) in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Lopez is getting rides and winning on many top horses, while also drawing some controversy, with an aggressive style he developed as a Quarter Horse rider in his native country.

“I began with Quarter Horses when I was 12, and I learned the feel of how horses would run,” he said.
Lopez has “natural instincts” that many young riders lack when they come to the United States, said Bill White, who has won 15 Calder training titles.

That includes what White calls ability to find openings in races and “bravado” to seize them.

However, some of Lopez’ tactics have led stewards to issue suspensions—including a 30-day ban he has appealed to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

Lopez has missed 30 Calder days due to suspensions, and also has appealed a five-day suspension from July.

On Aug. 4, stewards suspended Lopez 30 days for what they called careless riding in a race the previous day. Even though no objections or inquiry were filed, they penalized him for bearing in on a horse after he twice looked at the other jockey, said state steward Rene Riera Jr.

The Florida DPMW expects to issue a decision “soon” on Lopez’ latest appeal but has not set a date, said its spokeswoman Alexis Antonacci.

Lopez said a suspension may have been warranted, but added that he feels “30 days is not justified.”

Lopez was born on a farm in Mexico’s Veracruz state. He left home at 12 to work on a ranch, where he began riding Quarter Horses.

In 2006, he moved to the U.S. to “follow my dream of riding Quarter Horses” and make money doing it.

He worked on a ranch near West Palm Beach, Fla., and rode Quarter Horses in private weekend races.

In 2007, friends who worked at Calder brought Lopez to Palm Meadows, Magna Entertainment’s training center near Boynton Beach. After impressing trainers in morning workouts, he began riding at Calder.

Lopez rode his first Thoroughbred winner July 13, 2007, at Calder. Later that summer, White referred him to agent Cory Moran, who has worked with top apprentices including 1998 Eclipse Award winner Shaun Bridgmohan.

Lopez had 30 wins at this year’s Gulfstream meet, tying for 11th place. He credits Edgar Prado for help and friendship.

“Whenever I got discouraged, Edgar would tell me ‘You have a good future,’ ” Lopez said.

Lopez’ list of Calder stakes winners includes Harold Queen’s 2-year old Big Drama, who won the Dr. Fager and Affirmed in the first two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes.

Lopez lost his five-pound allowance for non-stakes Sept. 9. David Fawkes, Big Drama’s trainer, White, and Eddie Plesa Jr. said they will keep giving Lopez as many rides despite the loss of his “bug.”

The remainder of Lopez’ season, including candidacy for the apprentice Eclipse Award, could depend on stewards.
With 22 days left in the Calder meet he held a 139-91 lead in wins over Manoel Cruz. Calder’s Tropical meet will run from Oct. 23 through next Jan. 2.

Lopez will then ride at Gulfstream. A move to a northern track is possible later in 2009, Moran said.

Big Drama Completes Florida Series Sweep

Big Drama swept the open Florida Stallion Stakes when he romped to a five-length win as the even-money choice in the $400,000 In Reality Stakes at Calder Race Course Oct. 18. La Chica Sensual captured the $400,000 My Dear Girl.

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Calder leading jockey Paco Lopez, on his 23rd birthday, got a great gift when the rail opened up on the final turn, enabling Big Drama to slip past pacesetter Three Part Harmony and build an insurmountable lead in the stretch.

In the $400,000 My Dear Girl Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, favored La Chica Sensual took command at the top of the stretch and drew away in the final furlong for a 4 1/2-length win with Eddie Castro aboard.

Racing for the first time at a route distance in the 1 1/16-mile event, Big Drama defeated a large field while breaking from the rail. The Montbrook colt had to steady behind Three Part Harmony coming out of the first turn but was able to stay out of trouble the rest of the way. With Three Part Harmony racing off the rail on the lead, Big Drama was in position to exploit the opening and grab the lead coming into the lane. He drew off nicely under urging to post an easy win.

“I know this horse shows speed, but today the plan was to sit about third or fourth, maybe closer if the pace was very slow like it was,” said Lopez, who rode the dark bay in each of the FSS races. “The idea was that it’s a longer race than he has run before and we wanted to be sure to have something left for the stretch. I actually think he ran better today because we did relax early in the race as opposed to challenging the leader.”

Big Drama, who has now won four races in a row, began the FSS with a three-length win in the six-furlong Dr. Fager Aug. 16 at odds of 8-1. He followed that with a 3 1/2-length triumph in the seven-furlong Affirmed Sept. 6 as the second choice at odds of 8-5. In both of the wins, Big Drama was close to the lead while racing second before taking command.

“I really thought he’d be the favorite today,” winning trainer David Fawkes said. “But what surprised me was seeing Three Part Harmony want the lead and then holding us in there (on the rail). Whenever you have the favorite, they try to race ride you. But I think Manoel Cruz (aboard Three Part Harmony) knew that he was out of horse and allowed us to come up on the rail. (Big Drama) overcame a lot today and showed that he has a lot of guts.”

Three Part Harmony, who posted soft fractions of :24.48, :49.65 and 1:14.13, finished well to take second by 2 1/2 lengths over Edgemoor and Castro. Sincero finished fourth. Ambuscador was pulled up in the stretch and did not finish. Dryden, who stumbled badly at the start, was outrun early and was also pulled up in the stretch. He was removed from the track by van.

Big Drama joined FSS winners Smile (1984), Naked Greed (1991), Seacliff (1995), Express Tour (2000), and Sir Oscar (2003). The series started at Calder in 1982.

Owned and bred by Harold L. Queen out of the Notebook mare Riveting Drama, Big Drama began his career with a third-place finish against maiden special weights July 12 and has not lost since. His victory, worth $240,000, improved his bankroll to $410,250.

The winner paid $4, $2.80 and $2.10. Three Part Harmony, who also ran second in the Affirmed for trainer Jose Pinchin, returned $6.20 and $4. Edgemoor, coming off a maiden win for Eddie Plesa Jr., was $4.20 to show.

With the win in the My Dear Girl, La Chica Sensual came within in a head of sweeping the filly division of the Florida Stallion series for trainer Pablo Andrade and owners Jennifer Harries and Brenda Tabraue. She won the Desert Vixen by 8 1/4 lengths as the favorite Aug. 16, but was upset by a head in the Susan’s Girl by Aroma de Mujer, who ran 11th in the My Dear Girl.

“It’s a shame that she couldn’t win the ‘triple crown’, but that’s racing,” Andrade said. “We’ve worked hard to get this far. I think she’s the best 2-year-old filly on the grounds. I think she’s going to like the longer distances.”

La Chica Sensual, a daughter of Lightnin N Thunder–Lerma, by Unbridled, was making her first route try in the 1 1/16-mile My Dear Girl. She raced in eighth as Whatta Light, pressed by 56-1 shot Garter Belt, carved tepid quarter-mile fractions of :24.02, :49.12 and 1:14.68. La Chica Sensual advanced on the final turn while four wide, getting the lead from Garter Belt, who had taken over on the turn.

“She broke very sharp like she wanted to be on the lead, but then she got bumped a bit and lost some position and started to relax and fall back,” Casto said. “Once we reached the five-eighths pole, she got back on the bit and into the race. From there it was just a matter of letting her go ahead and run, so it all worked out.”

There was no challenge for the winner in the stretch as Trippi’s Greatstar, ridden by Paco Lopez, overcame a jostled start to gain the runner-up spot by a half-length over Exe and Charles Lopez. Garter Belt finished fourth. The winning time was 1:48.41.

The victory was the fourth in six starts for La Chica Sensual, who has never finished worse than second. The winner’s share of $240,000 boosted the gray filly’s earnings to $365,660.

Arthur Appleton bred La Chica Sensual, a $6,000 buy at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale in August 2007.

Sent off as the 13-10 choice in the field of 14, La Chica Sensual paid $4.60, $3.20 and $2.80. Trippi’s Greatstar, third in the Susan’s Girl for trainer Ralph Ziadie, returned $6.20 and $4.40. Exe was $10.40 to show in her stakes debut for trainer Edward Plesa Jr.

Big Drama Looks for Sweep in Florida

Harold L. Queen’s homebred colt Big Drama will seek a sweep of the Florida Stallion Stakes’ open division Oct. 18 when he faces 11 other juveniles in the $400,000 In Reality at Calder Race Course.

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Big Drama, a son of Montbrook out of the Notebook mare Riveting Drama, won the $100,000 six furlong Dr. Fager by three lengths Aug. 16. He came back to win the $150,000 seven furlong Affirmed by 3 1/2 lengths three weeks later. In both races, Big Drama was extending his lead at the finish. He has won three of his four starts–all at Calder.

The 1 1/16-mile In Reality will be the first race around two turns for Big Drama and eight of his rivals.

“With his breeding, the way he ran his last race and the way he trains we are confident that he can go the extra distance,” said David Fawkes, Big Drama’s trainer.

Fawkes expects that several horses “running late” could be Big Drama’s biggest threats. Big Drama, who can be expected to stalk early leaders, drew the inside post position.

“The way things change day-to-day here with the weather it is hard to say what that will mean, but under regular conditions I see no disadvantage to the one hole,” Fawkes said.

Paco Lopez, who leads Calder jockeys in wins, will ride Big Drama. He was aboard the horse in the Dr. Fager and Affirmed.

Challengers with late-running potential include Shade Tree Farm’s Three Part Harmony, Gilbert G. Campbell’s This Ones for Phil and J. Robert Harris Jr.’s Edgemoor.

Three Part Harmony, trained by Jose Pinchin, finished second in the Affirmed. This Ones for Phil, trained by Kathleen O’Connell, won Calder’s $60,000 Seacliff at one mile Sept. 6 and finished second in its $78,000 Foolish Pleasure Sept. 27. The Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained Edgemoor broke his maiden Sept. 27 at Calder, winning by 12 1/2 lengths at one mile.

Frank Calabrese’s Casey’s On Call is among the formidable shippers. The Wayne Catalano trainee won a seven-furlong allowance at Keeneland Oct. 4.

The In Reality is the companion to the $400,000 My Dear Girl–the 1 1/16-mile final leg in the Florida Stallion Stakes’ division for 2-year old fillies.

The races will conclude the 27th renewal of the series, which Calder and Florida breeders restrict to offspring of nominated stallions in Florida. Owners nominate stallions each year for $2,500 and make sustaining payments over 19 months to keep their foals eligible.

The My Dear Girl has a 14-horse field, and two also eligibles. It is headed by Jennifer Harries and Brenda Tabraue’s La Chica Sensual, and Guido Delatorre and Angel and Pedro Maestre’s Aroma de Mujer.

On Aug. 16, La Chica Sensual won the $100,000 six-furlong Desert Vixen, with Aroma de Mujer finishing third. The two fillies staged a stretch duel in the $150,000 seven furlong Susan’s Girl Sept. 6, with Aroma de Mujer beating La Chica Sensual by a head.
La Chica Sensual, a daughter of Lightnin N Thunder, is trained by Pablo Andrade and will be ridden by Eddie Castro. Aroma de Mujer, a homebred daughter of Trippi, is trained by Walter Rosas-Canessa and will be ridden by Manuel Aguilar. They drew post positions 10 and 13, respectively.
The field includes Ian Parsard’s Trippi’s Greatstar and Rustlewood Farm’s Black Russian, who finished third and fourth in the Susan’s Girl.

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