He’s not only one of the hottest apprentice riders around, Victor Carrasco might just be the hottest jockey in North America right now. In the month of November, the 21-year-old from Puerto Rico won 25 races from 112 mounts. The run sent him soaring to the top of national apprentice rider standings and has made him one of the favorites to win the Eclipse Award for top apprentice rider.
Carrasco sat down for an interview with DanonymousRacing.com right before he went out and won three more races on Wednesday, December 4, at Laurel Park. He followed that up by winning three more races the next day.
Danonymous Racing: If you would, start off by telling me a little bit about your background and how you got into horse racing.
Victor Carrasco: I started in Puerto Rico before coming here. My first start was in Florida at Gulfstream. After Gulfstream, I went to Tampa. Then, (trainer) Juan Vazquez called me and told me to come here to Maryland and that he had a good agent for me, Tom Stift. So, I decided to come here.
DR: But as someone who was new to racing here, how did you know what you to do and where to go?
VC: I made every decision with my uncle (Victor Carrasco, Jr.). My uncle is a trainer in Puerto Rico and I would call him every time and say in Spanish to him, “tio (spanish, for uncle), this trainer called me” or “that owner called me to make a decision. What do you think about that?” And he told me that it was good since I was just starting, I wouldn’t lose anything by trying (what Juan Vazquez had suggested). So, I gave Juan my uncle’s phone number and told him, “Juan, before I make any deal, you need to talk to my uncle because I’m here for him.” When Juan called my uncle, then my uncle told me it was OK to come to here because (Juan) has a lot of good horses, he wins a lot of races, he had a good agent for me and I needed that.
DR: Did you ride for your uncle in Puerto Rico before coming here?
VC: Yes. I won 11 races in Puerto Rico and I won five or six of those for him.
DR: How old were you when you actually started riding professionally?
VC: Well, I studied for two years in Puerto Rico in the (jockey) school when I was 18. Then I started riding when I was 20. I started riding there on January 1. That was my first day. I stayed for three months and then I came here. If you see all Puerto Rican jockeys, they come here and it’s much better. They do good. In the jockey school in Puerto Rico, my teachers, Miguel Camacho, Emilia Salinas and Carmelo Hernandez do a great job with all jockeys.
DR: When did you actually know you wanted to become a jockey?
VC: When I was a little track. I would go to the track on all Saturday mornings. Whenever I was done with school, I would go. My grandfather is a trainer too and he has the same name, Victor Carrasco Sr., and I’d go with him to the track in the Summer, Christmas, every day! I would see the jockeys galloping and working and my grandfather said to me, “you’re small, you can be a jockey, you won’t need to be a trainer.” And I told him that that’s what I wanted.
DR: So, it’s safe to say that horse racing is in your family?
VC: Yes. I’ve got this in my blood.
DR: So, take me back to earlier this year. You decided to come to the Mid-Atlantic and you hooked up with Tom Stift. How did things progress from there and ultimately lead to you having the success you’ve had in the past few months?
VC: I would go to all of the tracks with Tommy and I met a lot of god trainers through him. I met Scott Lake, Jamie Ness, Juan Vazquez, Michael Trombetta, Anthony Dutrow, Michael Matz, Hugh McMahon and a lot of other top trainers here. I met all of them thanks to Tommy.
DR: So, you made the right connections and then you start winning races. But did you surprise yourself when you took off like you did?
VC: I did. I surprised myself. But you know, when you trust in yourself you won’t have problems. That’s because the horse’s can feel when you trust. They know when you have confidence. So, that’s what I did. I just kept patient and I try to keep learning every day. I listen to all of the jockeys I meet, I watch them. I take a little bit from this one and a little bit from another one and I keep learning.
DR: You’re confidence is obviously sky high right now but you had to be nervous coming here without really knowing anyone.
VC: Oh yes. When I came, I was scared. I didn’t know the jockeys, I didn’t know the trainers and I didn’t know the horses. My agent told me a few times, “Victor, let’s go and meet that trainer.” But I got scared because I didn’t know too much English. I’m thinking the trainer is American and I’m Puerto Rican, you know? But listen, I’m trying and the trainers can tell that I’m trying. When they see that, they teach you and that’s a good thing.
DR: You seem to be having a lot of fun. You’re always smiling and you don’t seem to feel any pressure or anything.
VC: Yes. I’m very happy. I joke with everybody. You know, I’m the same person. I can win 100, 200 or 300 races and I’m going to be the same person. I’m not going to change because of any of that. Right now, I might be on top but later on I might be in the middle or I might be down. You never know.
DR: Explain to me how you got to the top. It didn’t even make sense how many races you won last month.
DR: But seriously, how do you think you’ve been able to win as many races as you’ve been winning lately, day in and day out?
VC: I don’t know how to explain it. I just feel great right now and my agent is doing a really great job. He picks good horses and even when he asks me to tell him which ones I want to ride, I tell him that he can pick the ones he wants. If he thinks it’s the right decision to choose one horse, I’ll ride that one. He usually chooses the right one and if it’s the wrong one, then next time we’ll choose the right one. It’s OK.
DR: Well, I’m going to bring up the big “E” word. It’s out there now, it’s within reach and I’m wondering what your thoughts are about potentially winning the Eclipse Award?
VC: When I left Puerto Rico, I actually thought about that. I left my country to do better for my future. But by the middle of the year, in June or July, I wasn’t really thinking about it. Then, my agent told me that we needed to just race every day, day and night, to try to be there and win the Eclipse.
DR: And what did you think when he told you that?
VC: I said, “let’s do it!” I told him, if you want to put me in Penn National, Charles Town, Parx, Monmouth or whatever, I’ll ride. And now, I feel great, not just for myself but for my family and for a lot of people who put trust in me and who have wished me good things.
DR: So, it sounds like Tom kind of challenged you and you’re happy that he did.
VC: Yeah, he said, “let’s go. Let’s do this.” And now, I have a shot to win it and to make it possible.
DR: What would it actually mean to you if you won the Eclipse Award for best apprentice rider?
VC: That would be awesome. Like I said, I know I’m at the top right now and I think the Eclipse would put me even higher. But I’m the same person. I’ll just keep working like I’ve been working. That’s the most important thing.
DR: I noticed that you’re very active on social media. You’re always updating your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Is there a reason you’re so involved with social media?
VC: I put all of those things to show my work because, you know, my mom is in Puerto Rico and she wants to know how I’m doing. She calls me and texts me after the race. She gets happy when I win and says “thank God for giving you another winner.” That’s the most important person – my mom. So, I put all those things on there for her and for my sister, my brother and all of my family. I just put things on Twitter and Instagram because that makes my family happy and that’s the most important thing for me. It’s for the fans too because I like when thoroughbred racing fans follow me and send me good wishes but, seriously, the most important thing for me is my family and my mom.
DR: You mentioned God and I’ve seen you use religious symbols when you tweet. I take it that you’re a pretty religious guy?
VC: Yes. When I was in Puerto Rico, I’d go to church on Sundays with my grandmother, who is another one of the most important people in my life. She sends me crucifixes that she took to the church and that were blessed by the father there. Even here, I went to Richard Monterrey’s church here. So, that’s good and I know that when you put God first, all things are possible.
DR: Now, another thing that’s pretty clear from all of your social media posts is that you’re also pretty good friends with another pretty good apprentice rider, Jevian Toledo.
VC: No. He’s not my friend. He’s my brother. We live together, we went to the jockey school in Puerto Rico in the same year. That’s my brother. I go to eat with him and I do laundry with him. Even when I go to Parx and he doesn’t have any (mounts), he comes with me. I go with him to Penn National, Charles Town and we just stay together all of the time. That’s why I say, that’s not my friend. That’s my brother.
DR: And Jevian isn’t doing too bad, himself.
VC: Yeah, he wins a lot too and I’m so happy for him. I’m happy when I see all of my partners from my same class in the jockey school winning. At Parx, the (Jorge) Vargas and in New York, there’s (Manny) Franco… a lot of my partners who were with me the same year are doing good.
DR: It is has to help to have guys like that around you, especially Jevian.
VC: Yes. I don’t have my family right here with me. I’m alone. But staying with him, I don’t feel alone. I’ve known him for almost three years and since he’s here with me, that’s awesome and I don’t feel bad.
DR: Lastly, what are some of your goals and what should race fans expect to see from you in the coming years?
VC: My goals? Hmm… I want to win a graded stakes at Saratoga. Riding in the Breeder’s Cup would be good. Winning the Eclipse Award for bug riders and just keep winning.
Aside from his his uncle and grandfather, Carrasco considers John Velasquez to be his racing role model. He also thanked several riders, including Carlos Marquez, for helping him develop his skills in the past few years.
The Jockey Journal above was transcribed from an interview with DanonymousRacing.com and solely reflects the words and thoughts of Victor Carrasco. We thank Victor for sharing so much about himself in Jockey Journals and wish him continued success. If you’d like to learn more about him, you can follow him on Twitter, @VictorJockey.
Interview and report by Dan Tordjman, DanonymousRacing.com