Jockey Victor Carrasco set to participate in Laurel's first summer season since 2010

Jockey Victor Carrasco rides By the Moon, which drew away from six other 3-year-old fillies to win the $100,000 Caesar Wish Stakes at Laurel Park by four lengths on March 21, 2015.
Jockey Victor Carrasco rides By the Moon, which drew away from six other 3-year-old fillies to win the $100,000 Caesar Wish Stakes at Laurel Park by four lengths on March 21, 2015. (Baltimore Sun)

Victor Carrasco arrived in Florida from his native Puerto Rico in early 2013 barely speaking any English. By that March, the jockey earned his first domestic victory at Tampa Bay Downs atop Wellspring Legacy.

By the end of that year, he won the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice, and this spring he led all jockeys at the Pimlico Race Course meet with 35 first-place finishes.


Carrasco, 23, is looking to continue his career ascent Friday when Laurel Park opens its summer meet.

In mid-June, the Maryland Racing Commission approved a plan to move the start of Laurel's racing season to Friday, a month earlier than initially planned, for its first July racing schedule since 2010.


The reason for the shift is to accommodate the Maryland Jockey Club's desire to create a new Friday twilight series that will feature live entertainment and food in hopes of attracting new fans and increasing revenue.

Post time for the first race is 3:40 p.m. There will be eight total races, with four on the turf course and four on the dirt course, ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.

Carrasco, who comes from a family of horsemen, is scheduled to ride in all eight races on Friday's card and figures to be busy throughout the meet.

That hardly comes as a surprise to his agent, Tom Stift, who this week recalled the jockey's arrival at the track in 2013.


"On his first day at Laurel, I pointed him to one of our top trainers who also speaks Spanish," Stift said. "The trainer pointed him towards the barn and he ran off to get on a horse and I said, 'This kid is gonna be OK.'"

Stift said Carrasco picked up English within a few months, and that his learning curve on the track has been smooth, too.

"It's as much about riding ability as it is a personality contest. Victor's got personality," he said.

Carrasco's success has made him one of the region's most sought-after jockeys, especially with two of his close friends and top competitors, Trevor McCarthy and Sheldon Russell, out with injuries.

Being in demand has kept him busy.

Carrasco rides eight to nine horses on any given morning. On Tuesday, he left Laurel after riding in the morning for Philadelphia, where he rode an additional three or four horses in preparation for the weekend's races.

"When I don't know the horse, I just let him smell me," Carrasco said. "I say, 'I'm not going to hurt you, so don't hurt me neither.'"

Riding multiple horses can make it tough for him to forge a connection with any one in particular, but the animals can help form the necessary relationship.

"They can sense if you're scared. They know everything," Carrasco said.

Stift agreed.

"If you're winning all the time and you're happy, I think the horses can sense that, too," Stift said.

The victories are earned long before the races. Stift said Carrasco is at the barn by 5 a.m. and on a horse by 5:30 every morning, setting the tone for other jockeys and pushing the standards for competition.

"It really made everybody step up to the plate and work harder," Stift said.

Carrasco is enjoying his success, but also has his eyes on the future.

"I love this place, I love being around these people, but if one day soon I leave for another place, I really want to go to California," he said.

He already has made a name for himself nationally by winning the Eclipse in 2013.

The honor might help open doors for him, but the recognition is not Carrasco's primary focus.

"Trophies, they don't pay the bills," Carrasco said. "I just want to win."


Laurel Park summer meet

Friday through Aug. 27

First posts: 3:40 p.m. Fridays; 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Information: LaurelPark.com

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