As the wins pile up for apprentice jockey Alexander Crispin — including eight in two straight race days at Laurel Park to start 2021 — the feeling he gets at the winner’s circle remains the same as his very first time there.
Excitement, often uncontained, dominates with a mix of gratitude, pride and validation.
For the 22-year-old native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, it has to be that way as he chases down his dream.
“It’s something precious, something big, something that’s hard to describe — one big great feeling,” Crispin said. “How do you say it? … I don’t really know how to say it, just that it’s like a big feeling of excitement.”
A little over a year ago, Crispin won his first race at Hipódromo Camarero Racetrack in Puerto Rico — a wire-to-wire performance riding Velvet Trinni that came 17 days after the start of his career.
In March, he came to the United States and took every opportunity he was given, riding at Turfway Park in Kentucky, Belterra Park in Ohio, Indiana Downs and Delaware Park before settling at Laurel in October.
To date, he has 119 career wins (16 this year) in 579 races with $2,544,625 in purse earnings. The resume has made him a finalist for the Eclipse Award as North America’s champion apprentice rider. The winner will be announced Jan. 28.
Three of Crispin’s recent wins at Laurel have come aboard Mike Trombetta-trained horses. The longtime trainer from Perry Hall says he rarely uses apprentice riders, but Crispin has been an exception that has paid dividends.
“What I’ve noticed, for a young man that’s got limited experience, he seems to be a little ahead of things,” Trombetta said. “The horses run well for him and he looks good out their on the track. For him to be riding as well as he has, it’s a testament to him as far as putting in the work and doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done. He’s becoming very popular very quick.”
Crispin’s interest in becoming a jockey came in middle school when he watched a horse race on the internet and further explored the profession with Google searches.
In high school, a teacher encouraged him to take it one step further and helped him register into Puerto Rico’s famed jockey school, Escuela Vocacional Hípica Agustin Mercado Reveron. Crispin spent two years learning the trade and graduated in December 2019. His first win came on the school’s grounds less than a month later.
“It was really tough for me because at the beginning, it was tough for me to handle the horse,” he said. “You have to figure out a way to get comfortable and manage the horse. Little by little, I started getting the rhythm.”
Crispin lives by these words, instilled in him by his parents, who still reside in Puerto Rico: “Work hard and be humble. I always say it.”
One of seven children, he is grateful to those who have helped him. In addition to his parents, there’s his five brothers and one sister; the high school teacher who encouraged him to chase his dream; his instructors at the jockey school; his agents, including his first when he reached the U.S., Julio Rijos; along with all the trainers and owners who have given him a chance on their horses.
And then there’s Joseph Ramos, another young Puerto Rican jockey who graduated one year before Crispin, made his way to America first and then showed his friend the path.
Crispin was staying with Ramos when he won his first two races at Turfway, just five days after he arrived in America.
That excitement Crispin displayed in the winner’s circle that day — not once, but twice — spilled into the night and the following day.
“It was a big emotion, like knowing that I made the best decision coming to the United States and demonstrating that I can do it,” he said.
Ramos was warmed by his friend’s success.
“He was so happy. I think he almost cried that day he was so happy,” he said. “I think the first time I talked to him [about coming to America], he didn’t believe me. … He was just so happy and so excited to be here and win his first races. He loves the game, man. He loves what he’s doing and that’s why he’s doing so well. He loves doing his job and that means a lot.”
Crispin arrives at the racetrack early with the mindset that a positive day is ahead. In the jockey room, he carefully reads the day’s program and maps out two different plans for each race in case one doesn’t work. The routine is comforting and Laurel has proven to be a track that suits his style.
“The hard work is paying off and I’m really thankful to all the trainers, owners and every person that’s given me an opportunity,” he said. “The business is hard. But working hard and seeing that work pays off is something else.”
Bringing home an Eclipse Award, celebrating its 50th year, would also be something else for Crispin. He thinks about how proud it would make his family and it would be an award to honor all the people who have helped him.
He’s in line to become the 12th Maryland-based rider to win the champion apprentice award. Weston Hamilton was the last recipient in 2018.
It would also be another feather in the cap for his jockey school back home, which also graduated Eclipse Award winners in brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz.
“It makes me excited knowing that I’m one of the finalists and winning would be a really good accomplishment. It’s a really good feeling knowing that the hard work I put into the school is going good,” he said.