Friday, April 9, 2021
HALLANDALE BEACH - Popular and personable jockey Paco Lopez, an Eclipse Award winner and twice the leading rider during Gulfstream Park’s Championship Meet, is on the verge of reaching a career milestone.
Lopez, 35, captured the eighth-race finale aboard Kahiko ($5), his lone victory from six mounts, as live racing returned to Gulfstream Thursday. He enters today’s nine-race program (1 p.m. post time) with 2,998 career wins according to Equibase statistics, which also noted one quarter horse win in 2009 at Hialeah. Lopez is named in six races and 10 of 11 races Saturday.
“Just the thought of winning 3,000 races and being with him from the start is pretty phenomenal,” Lopez’s agent, Cory Moran, said. “We’ve been together through this and it’s been amazing. There’sriders that get to 3,000, but I just think it’s amazing we did it together. I’m grateful and blessed through this journey. The journey has had its ups and downs but Paco’s a good guy and a good rider, and I think we appreciate each other.”
Lopez is one of six children who grew up in poverty in Veracruz, Mexico, leaving home at age 12 to live with one of his sisters. He was shining shoes and working in a car wash for $30 a week when a customer offered him a ranch job. Soon he was riding in quarter horse races at bush tracks with incredible success, including all 13 races over a single weekend.
In 2006, Lopez relocated to South Florida to further his dream of becoming a jockey, working on a ranch in West Palm Beach and riding unsanctioned quarter horse races. He began exercising at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s training facility in Palm Beach County, and launched his professional career in June 2007 at Calder Race Course.
“Since the first time I met him, I just thought there was something special in him. He just had those hungry eyes,” Moran said. “He was like a little boy standing there. Bill White introduced me to him. He was the leading trainer at the time and he loved him. He introduced us and I decided to take him the day I met him. It’s been a constant win machine from that day. He’s been like a whirlwind, and it’s not slowing down. He’s done a lot of remarkable things.”
Lopez rode his first winner on July 13, 2007 at Calder and finished with 20 for the year. In his first full season in 2008, he won 229 races, nearly $4 million in purse earnings, a Calder meet title and the Eclipse Award as champion apprentice.
Overall, Lopez has won 200 or more races nine times, ranked in the top 10 in North America in wins five times, including third in 2019 with a career-best 283. That year he also reached a personal high of $10.9 million in purses earned. Hewon back-to-back Championship Meet riding titles in 2010and 2011, and is one of only four jockeys (Javier Castellano, Irad Ortiz Jr., Luis Saez) to win 100 or more races at Gulfstream’s winter stand. He also won the 2019 Gulfstream Park West crown and owns 11 riding championships in New Jersey, eight of them at Monmouth Park where he spends the summer and early fall.
Three times in his career, Lopez has won seven races on a single card. He did it twice in 2014 at Monmouth and again on March 21, 2020 at Gulfstream, each time sharing the track record. Lopez earned his 2,000th career win on Dec. 4, 2016 at Gulfstream.
Overall, Lopez has won 89 career graded stakes, eight of them Gr. 1s, including his first with South Florida-based Itsmyluckyday in the 2014 Woodward as well as the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Sprint aboard Roy H. Last winter, he piloted Swiss Skydiver to victory in the Gr. II Gulfstream Park Oaks; Swiss Skydiver would go on to beat males in the Preakness Stakes and be named champion 3-year-old filly.
Rainbow 6 Jackpot Pool Guaranteed:
The 20-cent Rainbow 6 jackpot pool will be guaranteed at $500,000 for today’s program. The multi-race wager went unsolved Thursday for the sixth day since a March 27 mandatory payout. Tickets with all six winners were each worth $4,574. There will also be a carryover of $2,695 in the $1 Super Hi-5 for today’s opener.
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