“Daddy, I can’t believe you just won the Kentucky Derby,” wrote Delgado’s 6-year-old daughter, Savannah.
Two weeks later, the 46-year-old former jockey is still soaking in the victory.
That’s because for Delgado, a trip to Pimlico means a trip home.
Only a few hours after he arrived with California Chrome Monday afternoon, Delgado was reunited with Savannah, who lives in Columbia.
“Her mom brought her over here yesterday for me to see her,” he said Tuesday after a morning jog aboard the Kentucky Derby winner. “It was only a 20-minute, half-hour thing. But it was enough for me.”
Assistant trainer Alan Sherman could tell how much the visit meant to Delgado, who hadn’t seen Savannah in about eight months.
“He was very excited about that,” he said.
Reflecting on his return, Delgado smiles warmly at how far he’s come.
It’s a journey that began with a simple vacation last August. At the time, he was working with a few horses in Maryland, but the cold weather began to take its toll on the middle-aged Delgado, who jockeyed from 1985 to 1995 before eventually trying his hand at training.
“I wanted a change,” he said. “But I’m getting older … I was training a few horses myself and just got burnt out. It was just too much.”
Itching for some sun, Delgado went to visit his brother, longtime jockey Alberto Delgado, in California. Within a month, he was on a new path.
“I went out there, fell in love with it and moved out there,” he said.
A few months after the move, he saddled California Chrome — a horse his brother had ridden before —and rediscovered what he calls his true calling, galloping as the colt’s exercise rider.
Through daily morning workouts over the last several months, Delgado and the colt bonded. “Willie and Chrome are buddies,” Sherman said.
Delgado said everything felt familiar as he rode California Chrome on his first trip around Pimlico — except he took an extra moment to reflect.
“This morning I said, ‘Man, I’d never thought I’d been back here with the winner of the Kentucky Derby,’” he said. “It’s nice.”
As he searched for words to sum up the homecoming and the reunion with his daughter, Delgado could only find one: surreal.
“This is where I started. I learned how to gallop here. I rode races here, was a trainer here,” he said. “It’s a good feeling, basically. It’s a really good feeling coming home.”