(Auburn, WA) In 2023 the jockey colony was the strongest it’s been in many years. Local stallwarts like Alex Cruz, Kevin Radke and Jose Zunino were joined by several new riders all with solid credentials such as Carlos Montalvo, Silvio Amador and Luis Negron. Some returning riders included Kevin Orozco and Isaias Enriquez. Even Rocco Bowen came back to ride several days and ended up 5th in the standings.

Kevin Radke

2024 is beginning with some big news both good and bad. We’ll start with the bad news, 2 of Emerald Downs favorite riders will not begin the year in the saddle but rather recuperating from serious injuries. All-time leading female rider at Emerald Downs, Jennifer Whitaker suffered a leg/ankle injury and will be out to begin the season. Whitaker of course has been the regular rider for Hall-of-Fame trainer Howard Belvoir and is the only female rider to have ever won the Longacres Mile aboard Wasserman.

Two-time Emerald Downs Champion Kevin Radke who finished 2nd in the final standings in 2022 and 4th last year will be out for an undetermined amount of time after suffering serious injuries in a training accident at Turf Paradise last week. Radke suffered 4 cracked ribs and a collasped lung. He was released from a Phoenix hospital earlier this week. More on his injuries and updates here https://www.elisportsnetwork.com/2024/04/21/emerald-downs-2-time-emerald-champion-kevin-radke-injured-in-mishap/

Karlo Lopez

Now for the good news, more new faces are on the way with 3 coming from Turf Paradise. Karlo Lopez is currently the leading jockey with 40 wins. Brayan Pena currently 6th with 22 wins is also heading North along with Luis Reyes. Reyes is tied for 9th with 14 wins but with only 68 mounts is winning at a 21% clip.


4-time riding Champ Alex Cruz tops the list of returning riders as he attempts to extend his state record of 4 straight championships to 5. Cruz is currently in 3rd place at Turf Paradise with 30 wins. Cruz last year had his record setting season in jeopardy when he suffered injuries after fall at Turf Paradise but was able to recover in time for the start of the 2023 season.

Silvio Amador

ESN has reached out to many of the riders from last season and also coming back are Silvio Ruiz Amador, Isaias Enriquez, Carlos Montalvo, Leslie Mawing, Javier Matias, Kevin Orozco, Alex Anaya and Jose Zunino. Others who weren’t sure and could be for just limited stretches were Cerapio Figuroa and Rocco Bowen.

There is a wild card out there looming as well and he is certainly familiar to Emerald fans. Juan Gutierrez, the all-time winningest jockey at Emerald Downs took all of last year off after finishing 3rd with 70 wins in 2022. The question was asked several times if Juan was retiring and he never answered. Gutirerrez has been working horses in the morning and has led many to ask if that means we will see a comeback? Gutierrez remains non-commital which fuels the fire of a potential return to riding.

Juan Gutierrez

If Gutierrez comes back he will be looking to add to his 1,567 total wins and $17,185,539 earnings. That would also mean this year’s jockey room would have 5 former Emerald riding champs. Alex Cruz, Leslie Mawing, Isaias Enriquez, Kevin Radke and Gutierrez. And if Bowen comes back to ride at times it would be 6 former riding champs all riding at the same time. We’ll wait and see on what Gutierrez does but if he is in the mix it is going to make this year’s Jockey race even more intriguing.

Riders that likely are not going to return include last year’s 2nd leading rider Luis Negron who was at Turf Paradise but has now taken his tack East to Mountaineer Race Track in West Virginia. Alexis Valdes also was unsure of coming back and is considering other options at this point.

Another rider was Neptali Ortiz who made a splash bringing in some winners at big odds last season in Auburn and finished with 12 wins. After the Emerald season he headed to Grants Pass and Fresno and then went Southeast to Tampa where he rode through the end of the year and began in January but hasn’t ridden a race since January 27th.

A couple other notes on riders who were at Emerald at one point or another, Rigo Sarmiento began the season and showed promise with some good rides on longer shots but managed just 3 wins and last raced in mid-July at Emerald and hasn’t ridden since.

Francisco Diaz-Lopez had his 3rd best season as a jockey in his career last year with a 6-5-3 record from 39 rides with 73k in earnings. Diaz-Lopez makes his living working horses and has only riden 100 races or more in a year twice back in 2016 and 2017 and since has ridden very selectively. If Francisco is back working horses he will likely continue to take a few rides here and there but last year certainly proved when he does get on one you need to take a hard look.

McKenna Anderson, a Washington native who got her start at Emerald Downs in 2021 and won her 1st race on a 19-1 shot rode 13 mounts last season at Emerald and picked up a win in her short stint. She has currently been riding at Oaklawn Park and recently at Indianapolis. If Anderson heads out to visit family she may stop in for a few rides. Anderson is coming off her best year as a rider, in 2023 she was 25-20-27 from 237 rides for a win percent of 11% with more than a half-million in earnings.

Carlos Montalvo

Finally, let’s check the leading Stakes riders from last season and see where they may fall. There was a tie for most Stakes wins between Jose Zunino and Carlos Montalvo 4 each. Both benefitted from riding for leading Stakes trainer Tom Wenzel who took 7 of the 21 Stakes races. Montalvo won all 4 for Wenzel with 2 aboard Aloha Breeze and 1 with Tiza Macho Girl and 1 with Miner League. Montalvo was 4-2-1 from 9 rides for a 44% win rate and 78% in the money.

Zunino won a pair on Slew’s Tiz Whiz and 1 on Our Lyla Grace for Wenzel. His 4th stakes win was on Jamie’s Inheritance for trainer Charles Essex. Zunino also did it at big pay-offs with Our Lyla Grace winning at 14-1 and Jamie’s Inheritance at 23-1. Zunino ended with a 4-3-3 Stakes record from 16 starts winning at a 25% rate and on the board 63% of the time.

Alex Cruz and Kevin Radke both won 3 stakes, Isaias Enriquez and Silvio Amador both had a pair of big wins while Jennifer Whitaker had one. The local riders only allowed 2 Stakes races go to invading riders with Alexander Chavez winning on Prince Abu Dhabi for trainer Blaine Wright and Joe Bravo shipping in to win the Longacres Mile on Five Star General for former Emerald trainer Grant Forster. Forster was the only invading trainer to get a stake so the locals did a great job of keeping a lot of the Stake money home.

Eli Sports will again put out our weekly Jockey Power Rankings along with following the riders closely. Our pre-season coverage will continue as we get set for opening day next Saturday on May 4th. For more information on Emerald Downs, on-line ticket purchasing and information go to the Emerald Downs website.

2023 Top 10 Riders

Blazingbellablue with Alex Cruz

Jockey                            Mts      1st      2nd      3rd      Purses      Win%      ITM%
1 Alex Cruz                    372       70       70        67      $1,021,168  19%        56%
2 Luis Negron               308      55       49        57      $750,685     18%        52%
3 Silvio Ruiz Amador  235      46       46        34      $697,055     20%        54%
4 Kevin Radke              319      44       64        46      $821,884       14%       48%
5 Rocco Bowen             159      35       32        29      $450,344      22%        60%
6 Isaias Enriquez         169      33       26        30      $523,884      20%        53%
7 Carlos Montalvo       195       32       25        26      $575,900       16%        43%
8 Alexis Valdes             195      24       22        26      $376,194        12%         37%
9 Jose Zunino               124      20       18         16      $415,995         16%        44%
10 Kevin Orozco          202      19        21         27      $315,308           9%        33%



Slews Tiz Whiz with Jose Zunino

Jockey                               Mts      1st      2nd      3rd      Win%      ITM%     Purses
1 Carlos Montalvo             9          4          2           1         44             78         $145,340
1 Jose Zunino                   16          4          3           3        25              63        $180,325
3 Alex Cruz                        16          3          3          0         19              38        $139,918
3 Kevin Radke                   17          3          1          4         18               47        $137,204
5 Isaias Enriquez              13          2          1          2         15               38        $91,564
5 Silvio Amador                16          2          2         2          13               38        $103,855
7 Joe Bravo                          1           1          0         0       100             100       $82,500
7 Alexander Chavez           3           1          0         0         33               33        $39,500
7 Jennifer Whitaker          3           1          0         0         33                33       $28,014



By paulb

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