By Karen M. Johnson For JockeyTalk360.com
Patience, a great asset in a young rider and an attribute that isn’t always present early in a jockey’s career, was exhibited by Cancel in the seventh race on July 12.
While riding the Todd Pletcher-trained My Kinda Gal, the five-pound apprentice hugged the hedge down the backstretch of the turf sprint. With three furlongs remaining, Cancel looked to be in a switch, but he maintained his inside position and a seam materialized that led him to a narrow victory. A stewards’ inquiry and on objection from Kendrick Carmouche, the jockey aboard runner-up Barrel of Dreams, was lodged against the unofficial winner. But after a several-minute review of the replay, the stewards allowed the result to stand, citing “incidental contact between the rivals near the wire.”
It was a good day at the office for the 18-year-old: From five mounts, Cancel registered a win, a second, and a third.
His score aboard My Kinda Gal represented Cancel’s 53rd career victory since accepting his first mount on June 1, 2014 at Camarero Race Track in his native Puerto Rico. His 53 wins this year in the United States rank him 8th among all apprentices in North America. Cancel’s earnings of $2,102,493 thus far in 2015 place him third nationally among bug riders.
Richard Migliore, who won the 1981 Eclipse Award for top apprentice and is currently a racing analyst for the New York Racing Association’s television network and FOX Sports 1, likes what he has seen from Cancel.
“He’s very polished for a kid who just went from seven to five pounds,” the former rider commented. “He still has some things experience-wise he has to work out. But I think he’s super talented, and he’s obviously super passionate about it, which is a pretty formidable combination.”
A son of parents who were both jockeys in Puerto Rico, and a graduate of the Escuela Vocacional Hipica school for riding, Cancel was quick to show promise. After winning the first race he rode in, and piloting three more winners at Camarero in the next two weeks, a friend of Cancel’s reached out to jockey agent Angel Cordero Jr.
A Hall of Fame jockey and the long-time agent of superstar John Velazquez, who also moved to the States from Puerto Rico to ride, Cordero agreed to handle Cancel’s book, and thus began the apprentice’s next chapter.
Although Cancel was eager to continue his career upon his arrival in Florida, Cordero had other plans for his new pupil.
“For about two months, Angel just had me getting on horses at Palm Meadows [training center] in the mornings, teaching me how jockeys ride here in the States, and helping me [develop] a good clock in my head,” Cancel recalled. “Every single day I got on horses for trainers, Kelly Breen, Brian Lynch, and Wesley Ward. With so much time not riding races, I had so much adrenaline. I wanted to ride races. But I know it turned out to be the best thing because it made me a better rider.”
With his skills honed, Cancel started riding at Gulfstream Park in March. Shortly after piloting his first winner in the United States, which came aboard his fourth mount, he moved his tack in April to Aqueduct. The jockey colony in New York is arguably the most competitive in the nation, particularly during the spring, summer, and fall months, but the wins continued and Cancel began riding for a multitude of trainers. In addition to the aforementioned Breen, Lynch, and Pletcher, the apprentice has received support from other high-profile conditioners, including Chad Brown, Christophe Clement, and Shug McGaughey.
In recent years, New York-based apprentices have done exceptionally well. Brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz, also alumni of the Escuela Vocacional Hipica, made a splash as bug riders, and continue to rank as leaders on the NYRA circuit as journeymen.
Migliore, who cut his teeth as an apprentice in New York, said it’s a positive for a young jockey to compete shoulder to shoulder with elite riders.
“It means you’re going to pick up good habits,” Migliore explained. “You know, when you ride with less accomplished riders or guys who don’t have as much as experience as the New York colony does, you’re going to learn bad habits because they are going to make mistakes and you’re going to think that is the way to do things.
“In a colony like this, they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” he continued. “If they do make a mistake, they recognize it, and if you make a mistake, they are going to tell you, right away. To have the older riders in the room, like Johnny Velazquez and Javier Castellano, tell a young rider, ‘You don’t do that because . . .’ is a tremendous help. And obviously, with Angel in his ear, he’s not going to blow that off or have an attitude about it. He’s way ahead of the curve. What Eric has picked up in a very short time takes guys their entire apprenticeship to pick up.”
Having Cordero in Cancel’s corner has implications that go far beyond securing live mounts for the apprentice.
“At night, Angel and I watch a lot of films — of when he was riding, and of my races,” said Cancel, whose apprenticeship continues until March of next year. “He will tell me what I did wrong, what cost me the win. Having Angel, and having the help of Johnny [Velazquez] has been greet. Johnny has taught me about patience as a rider. He tells me that I have to ride really calm and to try to save as much horse as I can.”
With 34 winners at the current Belmont meet, Cancel ranks a respectable sixth on the leader board. And as the Belmont meet nears a conclusion, and Saratoga opening on July 24, Cancel is looking forward to taking on a new frontier. But the teenager, who has a ready smile and carries himself in a manner that suggests he is older than he is, said competition aside, simply being around horses brings him unbridled joy.
“I was at the racetrack since I was a baby,” Cancel said. “The first time I got on a horse without any help, I think I was 3 years old. I knew it was in my blood once I saw my mother and father working with horses. I knew that was for me. I don’t know how to explain it, but being around horses just makes me happy.”