Vince DeGregory knows talent when he sees it.
The longtime jockey agent could open his own personal Hall of Fame with former clients such as Laffit Pincay, Jr, Chris McCarron, Darrel McHargue and Angel Cordero, Jr.
It should come as no surprise that his latest prospect, Gonzalo Nicolas, has burst into prominence as the leading apprentice rider during the Betfair Hollywood Park Autumn meet.
Nicolas, a 23-year-old native of Guatemala, came to the United States at 13. He attended Riverside High School, where he became a wrestling champion. Nicolas used his wrestling talents to work his way into mixed martial arts.
“He won nine of 11 professional cage fights,” said DeGregory.
Nicolas became interested in race riding and started working horses at Los Alamitos. He learned quickly and when given a chance, won with his first mount, guiding Ray’s Storm to a 10-1 upset May 3.
By the time he won his third race, just a few mounts later, he was starting to get noticed.
“Martin Valenzuela told me to watch this kid,” recalled DeGregory. “I did and he introduced me soon after.”
DeGregory formed a plan for the young rider.
“I wanted to get him away from Los Alamitos,” he said. “It’s all send, send, send over there. He needed to become a rider.”
DeGregory then made Nicolas an unusual offer.
“I told him I wouldn’t charge him anything for three months and we’ll see how it goes,’’ he said. “I explained to him he was going to ride some bad horses for a while, but he’ll learn. (Pincay) has been giving him advice and Martin Garcia has taught him some things about breaking from the gate.”
“One morning at Del Mar, he turned to me and said ‘Am I ever going to pay you?’”
After the financial arrangements were solidified, things started looking up for the apprentice. He rode his fifth winner Aug. 16 at Del Mar, which reduced his weight advantage from 10 to seven pounds.
“He has 23 wins right now and he’ll get seven pounds until his 40th winner,” explained DeGregory. “Then he’ll get five pounds until Aug. 16, 2014. He has a lot of time left with the bug.”
His eight victories this meeting place him sixth in the standings and have produced a $2.47 return (for each $2 wagered) on investment.
“I sent a tape of one of his fights to (McCarron),’’ continued DeGregory. He said that if he rides like he fights, he’s going to be a champion.”
John Sadler is hopeful Kobe’s Back and Candy Boy are up to the challenge in a very tough CashCall Futurity.
The Grade I, $750,000-guaranteed race for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles over Cushion Track, has drawn an outstanding field of 13. It is the ninth of 10 races Saturday.
“They’re both doing well,” remarked Sadler, “but this is a very good field. I thought Shared Belief was brilliant in the Hollywood Prevue (Nov. 10). He was the most impressive 2-year-old winner of the meet.’’
Kobe’s Back finished second in the Prevue, nearly eight lengths behind Shared Belief, while making his first start since a decisive debut victory in the Willard Proctor Memorial June 15.
Kobe’s Back broke poorly in the Prevue, much like he had in his initial start.
“We’ve had him back at the gate several times since the race,” said Sadler. “We’re working on it. (Joel) Rosario worked him when he was out here last week.”
Beside the strength of the competition, Sadler is very concerned about the grey’s number 13 post position.
“When I saw where he was drawn, I got a little sick,’’ he said.
Sadler also warned not to overlook Candy Boy, who broke his maiden by 8 ¼ lengths at the CashCall distance Nov. 22.
“He’s really doing well,” said the trainer. “Now is the time to stretch them out and get some experience.”
In addition to Saturday’s marquee event, the Grade I, $750,000 CashCall Futurity, Betfair Hollywood Park will present the Grade III, $150,000 Native Diver Handicap at 1 1-8 miles on Cushion Track and the Grade II, $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup at 1 1-2 miles.
The Turf Cup is carded as the third race while the Native Diver is the seventh.
A special commemorative pin honoring the CashCall Futurity will be given – one per paid admission while supplies last.
At 11 a.m., 90 minutes before first post, the first of two free seminars will be presented at the Paddock Tote Board.
Leandro Mora, the longtime assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill will be the guest of co-hosts Michael Burns and George Ortuzar for the Escogiendo Ganadores (Picking Winners) session.
The Spanish-language handicapping seminar will be offered every Saturday during the Autumn meet, which continues through Sunday, Dec. 22.
Mora, who also worked for the late Brian Mayberry, will discuss his career with Burns and Ortuzar as well as the Betfair Hollywood Park card, including the trio of stakes races.
At 11:30 a.m., one of the analysts from Television Games Network (TVG) will host Hollywood Insider, which will feature special guests, plus handicapping tips, insights and other last minute information regarding the afternoon’s races.
This week’s Pick 6 Saturday will be offered on races 5-10 with a guaranteed pool of $150,000. If the pool reaches $200,000, $1 Happy Hour food and drinks will be available at Whittingham’s Pub and Betfair Players’ Lounge. Should there be one winning ticket in the Pick 6 and that ticket is purchased on track or through TVG, a bonus of a new Prius—courtesy of Toyota of Orange—will be awarded.
Suzie Kasielke, curator of birds at the Los Angeles Zoo, along with 10 of her crew and a veterinarian, were at Betfair Hollywood Park Dec. 11 to assist in relocating several flamingos from their residence on the infield lake to a new home.
The track will run its last race Dec. 22 and the land is scheduled for redevelopment in 2014.
All but two of the 12 flamingos were caught. The other two escaped, but Kasielke will return in a week or two to complete the mission. The birds were transferred via a Bob Hubbard horse van to Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, Ca., where they will live out the rest of their lives.
CLOSING STRIDES*—Trainer *Mike Pender reported that Boat Trip, game winner of the Hollywood Turf Express Dec. 8, came out of the race in great shape. “He returned beautifully,” said Pender. “With the recent passing of Boat Trip’s sire, Harlan’s Holiday, the owners (B.J. Wright and James Hirschmann III) are giving some thought to standing him in California.”……Since 1981, six CashCall Futurity participants have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby (Gato Del Sol, 1981; Ferdinand, 1985; Alysheba, 1986; Thunder Gulch, 1994; Real Quiet, 1997; and Giacomo, 2004). Six have also come back to win the Preakness (Tanks Prospect, 1984; Snow Chief, 1985; Alysheba, 1986; Real Quiet, 1997; Point Given, 2000; and Lookin At Lucky, 2009). Three have won the Belmont Stakes (A.P. Indy, 1991; Thunder Gulch, 1994; and Point Given, 2000). Eleven CashCall starters have won a Breeders’ Cup race….The $2,500 winner-take-all Show Me the Money contest is down to the final two— Stephen Pordon (screen name Smartcakes) and John Kent (screen name jtheimmortal). On Thursday’s card, Pordon, who lives in Longmont, Colorado, has selected Ubelongtomissy in the 6th and Kent (Columbus, Ohio) has chosen Too Obvious in the 8th.
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