Derby Winner Shifts His Tack to Gulfstream
Friday, July 15, 2022
    HALLANDALE BEACH - Sonny Leon came directly to Gulfstream Park from Venezuela in 2015 hoping to follow in the successful footsteps of fellow countrymen Javier Castellano, Junior Alvarado, Leonel Reyes, Emisael Jaramillo and many others.

    He rode his first U.S. winner, Burning Time, on June 25, 2015 on his fourth mount after arriving at Gulfstream, but he ended up relocating to Ohio and Northern Kentucky in December of 2015 after winning just four races from 71 starters in South Florida in relative obscurity.

    Leon will return to riding full time at Gulfstream on Saturday’s program. This time, the 32-year-old journeyman brings with him the special cachet of being a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey. Rich Strike, an 80-1 shot whose only prior success came in a $30,000 maiden claiming race, carried him to a most unlikely victory on May 7 at Churchill Downs. Leon’s brilliantly executed ride, in which he only left the rail to go around tiring horses, was the difference between victory and defeat.

    Leon, who has won multiple riding titles on the Ohio circuit since leaving Gulfstream, is expected to be given considerably more opportunities to prove himself at the Hallandale Beach racetrack this time around. On Saturday’s program, he's named on six horses, two trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, two trained by Michael Maker, and one each trained by Jose D’Angelo and David Braddy.

    Leon will get his first day back starting in Race 1, a five-furlong $35,000 maiden claimer for 2-year-olds on Tapeta in which he’ll ride Carlin Clan, a Casse-trained first-time starter by Mendelssohn. He returns in Race 4, a five-furlong $12,500 claiming race on Tapeta for fillies and mares, aboard D’Angelo-trained She’s Classy.  After riding Maker-trained Over Calendared in a $12,500 maiden claimer at 1 1/16 miles on Tapeta in Race 5, Leon will ride Braddy-trained Easy Come Easy Go in the $75,000 Azalea, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies. He’ll close out his day riding Casse-trained first-time starter Luka Grazis in Race 7, a six-furlong maiden special weight event for 2-year-olds, and Maker-trained Nepoti in Race 9, a six-furlong maiden optional claiming race for Florida-bred 3-year-olds and up.
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