Black-Eyed Susan win was emotional for jockey from Maryland

Nik Juarez celebrated his victory in Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course by taking his father, Calixto, and Taylor Logue, a former high school wrestling teammate at Winters Mill High in Carroll County, out to dinner.

Juarez said he was in bed in his father’s home in Westminster by 10:30 Friday night, was up at 3 a.m. and driving up to Monmouth Park in New Jersey, where he’s scheduled to ride a full slate of races on Saturday.

“I was on the back of a horse by 7:30 in the morning,” Juarez said in a telephone interview Saturday. “I got on three horses [for their morning workouts] and then I got just an hour of sleep in and then I ride nine [races] today.”

The victory on 12-1 shot Actress was not only the most significant of his short riding career, it was also the most emotional, given his roots in Maryland.

“The Black-Eyed Susan in itself is one of the most prestigious races in horse racing,” Juarez said. “For me to win that, being at home, it was one of the most heartfelt races I’ve ever won just because my family and myself being from Maryland.”

Juarez, 23, is on something of a roll.  Along with the narrow win in Baltimore – Actress beat Lights of Medina by a head – Juarez won four races in the opening weekend at Monmouth last week, making him the leading rider there so far.

“Hopefully there’s a snowball effect,” he said. “I just take it a day at a time, one race at a time.”

Juarez said that he still takes what he learned as a high school wrestler to the racetrack.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, it’s not as easy at it seems, there’s been more downs than ups,” Juarez said. “Regardless, through hard work, my wrestling coach John Lowe always instilled in me a mental toughness and getting to the next step. It’s not an easy game. We risk our lives every day. This is what we do to win a race like that, that’s why we work hard.”

Friday’s win was a bit of redemption for Juarez.

One of the most difficult periods of Juarez’s career came at the beginning of 2016, when he was suspended for failing to turn in a urine sample during a drug sweep of the Maryland jockey colony. Juarez said that he was trying to make weight at the time and couldn’t find an official to give his sample to the day they were collected. Juarez had a drug test done by a private screening company.

“It was devastating,” Juarez said. “Actually I lost a really big mount because that happened. For me to get my license back it took nearly three weeks because we had a really big blizzard. It was crazy. For me to get my name cleared up, it was like starting all over again. Like I said, you’ve got to be mentally tough, you’ve got to keep doing your thing, working hard, working seven days. Just keep your head held high because you know who you are.”      

don.markus@baltsun.com

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