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Puerto Rico Profile: Angel Cordero, Jr.

July 6, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.


"If a horse has four legs and I’m riding it, I think I can win." Such are the inspirational words of world-renowned jockey Angel Cordero, Jr. A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, Cordero grew up in the rich heritage of Puerto Rican horse racing. He was born November 8, 1942, and although times have changed since the makeshift tracks and "friendly" wagers of his youth, Cordero has reached fame in both his homeland of Puerto Rico and the international horse racing world.

With his respected father, Angel Cordero Vila, also a rider and trainer, Cordero was born into the realm of competitive horse racing. In fact, over the course of his career, Cordero rode to victory in all three races of the famous Triple Crown: The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.

In addition to his extensive family traditions, Cordero’s upbringing in Puerto Rican thoroughbred racing associated him with childhood crony Juan Manuel "Guengo" Rodríguez, an acclaimed Puerto Rican trainer. Known for transforming cheap horses into champions, Rodríguez followed in both his uncle’s and father’s footsteps in becoming a prominent figure in thoroughbred racing. Now his son, Juan "Tolly" Rodríguez Jr., has inherited the family’s eminent legacy.

After studying under his father, Cordero began racing at an early age, progressively attaining distinction as a champion in his field. In 1974, Angel won the best known horse race in North American, the Kentucky Derby, aboard Cannonade. The Kentucky Derby is held annually on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and is a grueling one and a quarter mile race. Attracting the finest three year old thoroughbred horses in the nation and drawing crowds well over 100,000 at the race track plus millions of television viewers, winning the Kentucky Derby is the supreme achievement in horse racing.

Cordero won the prestigious Derby two additional times, earning a ranking of fourth in Kentucky Derby history for jockeys with multiple victories. The second win, in 1976, was with Bold Forbes. Bold Forbes died recently, at age 27, as the longest living Kentucky Derby winner. The thoroughbred was heralded as the "Puerto Rican Wonder Horse." His third Kentucky Derby win was in 1985 aboard Spend a Buck.

Bold Forbes

Cordero won the Belmont Stakes on Bold Forbes in 1976, and he took the Preakness twice–in 1980 on Codex and in 1984 on Gate Dancer.

Another high profile race on the thoroughbred circuit is the Breeders’ Cup. Angel Cordero placed seventh best in the Breeders’ Cup history of earnings, after winning an astonishing four Breeders’ Cups.

As important as they were, high profile races were only a small part of Cordero’s amazing career. From 1977 to 1990, Cordero’s mounts won a record-holding total of over five million dollars each year. However, this famous racing career was unfortunately cut short in 1992 after a fall that nearly cost him his life. Now retired from riding, Cordero is proclaimed as the sixth ranking jockey of all time, winning 7,057 races in twenty-two years.

In addition to Angel Cordero’s impressive record of victories, his commitment to the sport and to the thoroughbreds has made him a two-time recipient of the prestigious Eclipse Award, recognizing his outstanding achievements in the world of horse racing.

However, Cordero didn’t allow early retirement to put a halt to his involvement in the racing profession. Going against the objections of his family and doctors, Cordero saddled up again in 1995, at age 53, to ride in the Breeders’ Cup. Concerning life after his accident and his determination not to be inactive, Angel stated, "I wanted to retire my way and not the other way. I didn’t want to remember going out the other way."

His unexpected retirement also allowed him to explore various aspects of the racing arena, improving his knowledge and expertise in the sport, and starting a new career in training which he views as a valuable learning experience. When asked about the difference between training and racing he responded, "I’m enjoying training horses but they’re not as good as when I rode. But I enjoy it, and the main thing is to enjoy what you do."

Cordero’s racing and training experience encouraged him to continue the Puerto Rican racing legacy. Angel Cordero inspired a fellow Puerto Rican star, John Velazquez, born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, to move to New York and race under Cordero’s tutelage. With Cordero acting as his agent, Velazquez is currently ranked twelfth on the national earnings list and has been among the top ten riders in New York for the past nine years. The 30 year old jockey has a promising racing career, finishing second on Invisible Ink in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Now living in Greenvale, New York, and enjoying his new career, Cordero is also active as a father of three children. His wife, Marjorie Clayton Cordero, was a well-known figure in New York’s thoroughbred racing as well. Tragically, Marjorie Cordero died in a hit and run car accident in January, 2001, at the age of 41. A jockey herself, Marjorie won seventy-one races from 1982 to 1985 and was extremely successful as a horse trainer and an agent for jockey Hector Rosario.

Acknowledging Cordero’s far-ranging racing tradition and expertise, the Sports Hall of Fame named him as one of the century’s finest jockeys. Steve Cauthen, the last jockey to win the Triple Crown and an all-time great, pronounced Angel Cordero as "the elite stylist of the last fifty years."

When speaking about the thoroughbred, Spend a Buck, Angel Cordero said simply, "He’s good enough for me. I won’t say he’s a superhorse because you’re never a superhorse until you’re retired." By his own definition, Cordero will undoubtedly rank in the "super" category when he eventually retires from the racing world.

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