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The San Francisco Chronicle

Rookie Rivera Racking Up Wins

By Larry Stumes

January 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The San Francisco Chronicle. All rights reserved. 

First Kevin Krigger, then Omar Figueroa and Francisco Duran, and now Jose Rivera Jr. is excelling as an apprentice jockey in Northern California.

A 21-year-old native of Puerto Rico, Rivera began his riding career in early 2001 at Philadelphia Park and came west at the beginning of Bay Meadows' summer-fall season. He finished sixth in the jockey standings with 25 winners from 174 mounts and is fifth at Golden Gate Fields with 27 winners from 219 mounts.

"A neighbor took me to the racetrack for the first time when I was 12, and he joked that I would become a jockey some day," Rivera said. "I didn't really go back to the track too much, but when I was 18, I went to jockey school for a year and then I galloped horses for another year."

Puerto Rico has produced some fine jockeys, most notably Hall of Famer Angel Cordero Jr. and current East Coast stalwart John Velaszquez. But unlike them, Rivera couldn't use El Commandante racetrack in San Juan to launch his career, because jockeys there weigh about 105 pounds. Tall for a jockey at 5-6, Rivera weighs 112 - - just about right for U.S. racing.

"A jockey agent in Puerto Rico told me if I wanted to start, he could get me set up at Philadelphia Park," Rivera said.

But Rivera struggled there, winning with just nine of 169 mounts, so when his cousin called him one day and told him he should try California, he came as quickly as he could.

With an agent, Mark North, who has been able to get him mounts from many of the Bay Area's top trainers, Rivera has done better than even he expected.

"I knew I was a better rider than what I showed in Philadelphia, but I didn't think I'd do this well," he said. "Mark has helped me get a lot of support from trainers, and everything has come together really well."

Seeking his first career stakes victory, Rivera rode Watch Out World for trainer Armando Lage in the $73,750 Miss California Saturday at GGF, but they finished fifth after setting the pace and being hooked inside of eventual winner Denali Cat.

"He's a good kid, a little green, but what he does that a lot of bug boys (apprentices) don't is, he's real relaxed," Lage said. "He doesn't panic. He stays very calm on a horse, even when he is in a tight situation."

Denali Cat, trained by Brian Koriner and ridden by Adalberto Lopez, held off Southern California invader Heart ofa Champion by three-quarters of a length for her second win in four starts with a second and a third.

While most participants in thoroughbred racing will tell you their life's goal is to win the Kentucky Derby, Rivera has a different one.

"I want to be recognized by other people for being a top rider," he said. "That's what Cordero and Velazquez did."

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