Miguel Mena has paid his dues. After more than a decade in the saddle, the 28 year old finds himself in position to make some noise with a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. He’ll ride International Star in this Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at the Louisiana Fairgrounds, after winning the LeComte Stakes aboard the 3-yeaar-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus last month.
In addition to his promising Derby contender, Mena is currently second in the rider standings at the Fairgounds. In this edition of Jockey Journals, Mena tells us a little more about how he’s gotten to this point, detailing the ups and downs of a career that was almost derailed entirely by alcohol. Through it all, Mena has found strength in his family, from his father to his two children.
I’m from Lima, Peru. I grew up at the racetrack, where my dad was a jockey and rode for 17 years. Even today, my uncle is a trainer at Hipodromo de Monterrico Jockey Club del Peru.
I was always my dad’s number one fan and, ever since I can remember, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. It was my dream to one day become a jockey. So, by age 11, I was grooming horses and at 14 I went to the Jorge Bernardini Yori Jockey School (same jockey school that Edgar Prado and Rafael Bejarano graduated from). I was at the school for two years and finally started riding races at 16.
When I started out riding in Peru, I won my first race in 2004. It was on a horse named Platanal for trainer Carlos Gastañeda. I rode for five months and won 50 more races in Peru before coming to the United States. My first stop was at Calder Race Course, where I rode for one year won 17 races.
I left Calder for Hawthorne and Arlington Park, in Chicago. I rode there for about three years before getting a phone call from agent Steve Elzey. He asked me to go to to go to Kentucky, so I did. I started riding the last two weeks of Churchill spring meet in 2006 and won some races there. Next, I went to Ellis Park and became leading rider there.
It was the start of a very good run for me, which included leading rider titles at Turway Park, in Kentucky, and then at Presque Isle Downs, in Pennsylvania. As I continued to do well, I ended up riding at Saratoga. I did not not handle the party scene out there because of a drinking problem I had. I had to come back to Louisville to fix it. Luckily, I’ve come a long way since then and I continue to keep working hard.
*Over the course of his career, Mena has won 26 graded stakes. He lists Pool Play (Stephen Foster Handicap-G1) and Uncaptured (Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes-G2) at two of his favorite horses he’s ridden.*
It has been a great 11 years of riding experience with ups and downs but, thanks to God and hard work, I’m here doing what I love. I have two kids that I love to spend time with. My kids are my daughter Naelah, who is 2 years old, and then there’s my little one Monsterrat, who is just 11 months old. When I’m not at the track or spending time with my kids, I like to enjoy soccer. I watch the soccer leagues from Spain and I’m a big fan of FC Barcelona!
As far as my plans for the future, I will keep working to win big races. My main goal would be to win the Kentucky Derby.
This Jockey Journal was compiled from responses by Miguel Mena to interview questions from DanonymousRacing.com. It has been edited for clarity. We thank Miguel for taking the time to be a part of Jockey Journals.