Jockey Marcelino Pedroza Jr.
The Ellis Park riding colony has for the past few years been largely an extension of the population of the Knights of Churchill Downs. This summer, Ellis jocks room will also look like the Indiana Grand.
Ellis Park opens Sunday, June 27 and runs through September 4. With races Friday through Sunday, his schedule aligns seamlessly with the Indiana Grand, which this year runs Monday through Thursday. The only overlap between the tracks that are three hours apart is Thursday, July 1.
One can ride full time on both tracks – if one doesn’t mind riding seven days a week all summer long. Nor does Marcelino Pedroza. He, along with DeShawn Parker and Fernando De La Cruz, are making headlines in Indiana’s leading jockeys looking to make hay at Pea Patch.
“I’m so young, if I can do it now, why not?” 28-year-old Pedroza said. “I missed a lot of days in the last year, and probably only rode three months. So I feel refreshed.”
Pedroza was sidelined for four months in early 2020 with a broken collarbone, returning to ride nine races in May before an elbow injury prevented him from another 3½ months. He came back as strong as ever, winning 49 races at the New Orleans fairgrounds over the winter to finish sixth in the standings. He currently leads the Indiana Grande with 27 victories since he began that meet on April 13.
Parker has racked up 5,864 career victories, including leading the nation in 2010 and 2011. The rider, who began riding in 1988, spent most of his career in West Virginia and then Texas before moving in 2017 to the Indiana Grande, where he is Already number 8 at all times in victories. He won his first Indiana Grande title with 106 wins during last year’s meet that cut short with Covid, and currently ranks third with 18. Parker was honored in March as the recipient of the prestigious George Wolfe Memorial Jockey Award, which riders nationwide voted to recognize as one of them. A special profession and a distinguished personality.
Peruvian-born de la Cruz won the Indiana Grand Prix title in 2014 and 2016. He is the all-time riding pioneer on the racetrack in purse earnings of more than $25 million in the track’s 19-year history. His 35 wins in the state is also a record. He joined all-time track leader Rodney Prescott as the only rider to have over 1,000 wins at the Indiana Grande.
Jose Batista, who has 14 wins at the Indiana Grande this meet, will also ride both tracks. In addition to checking in bags at Ellis Park, the riders are clearly hoping that a larger presence this summer in Kentucky will provide opportunities in the fall in Churchill Downs and Keeneland.
“There are a lot of good horses to ride in Kentucky,” said de la Cruz on the back of Churchill Downs. “That’s why I and my agent are walking around here, trying to get some good business.”
Panama-born Pedroza was a fixture at Ellis earlier in his career. He won 20 races to tie for third in the 2015 riding rankings, and also finished third in 2013 with 23.
Pedroza also leads in this Indiana Grand meet in purse earnings ($698,156) and rallies (161) as he pursues his third riding title at the Shelbyville track. He was a lead rider in 2017 and then ran away with the 2019 Indiana Grand title, 152 wins and $3,407,744 in the governor’s records for the 120 meet.
“I’ve been hurt in the last year, so that doesn’t count,” Pedroza, who lives in Louisville, said recently at Churchill Downs. “And the year before that, I was doing so well in Indiana that I didn’t think about (riding Ellis). I wasn’t riding here in Churchill, so I wasn’t worried about riding anywhere other than Indiana. Now I’m thinking about doing more” .
While riding moderately at Churchill Downs so far this encounter, Pedroza took advantage of most of the limited opportunities. That includes winning the Aristides Stakes on the $150,000 Bango and finishing second in Class 3 Matt Winn aboard O Besos, who climbed four weeks ago to finish fifth in the first Kentucky Derby at Pedroza. Both horses are trained by Greg Foley.
“It was such an amazing experience, I don’t even have the words,” Pedroza said of the derby. “It was a big dream come true. No excuses. The horse ran big.”
When asked about Pedroza, Foley said, “Marcelino is a good rider, period. Good kid, top-notch work. I love him. I wouldn’t ride him in the derby if I didn’t think he could ride.”
The Indiana Riders will add to an already robust riding colony that should feature most regular Churchill Downs. This includes 2020 Ellis leader Joe Talamo, 2019 champ James Graham, Corey Laneri (five Ellis titles), Rafael Bejarano (two titles), two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Julian Lebarro, and previous Eclipse Award winners Brian Hernandez and Shawn Bridgemohan, along with Along with Miguel Mina, Adam Bichiza, Gabriel Saez, Mitchell Morell, Colby Hernandez, Declan Cannon and others. Plus, Louisville producer Drayden Van Dyke will be based in Ellis Park for the first time this summer after moving to Kentucky earlier this spring from California.
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