From Pasadena Star News
There’s been one constant in the 80-year history of Santa Anita Park: Hall of Fame jockeys call the Arcadia track home.
Rafael Bejarano isn’t in horse racing’s Hall of Fame yet, but what fans will see this winter figures to be the latest chapter in a career that’s certain to put him there. Bejarano has become the dominant name at a track where legends like Johnny Longden, Willie Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr. turned themselves into icons.
When Santa Anita opens its doors on Dec. 26, Bejarano will begin bidding for his third consecutive riding title. Last year, Bejarano made a mockery of the jockey standings by winning 93 races. Second place had 54.
“The good horses make you be better,” Bejarano said. “I know it’s pretty tough here in Southern California and especially to do so good year after year. When I first came here, it was my dream to be leading rider in Southern California.”
Bejarano had success throughout the country before settling permanently in Southern California at the start of the 2007-08 Santa Anita meet. He did so at the urging of the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who opened doors for the Peruvian jockey before his untimely passing in 2009.
Success at Santa Anita came right away for Bejarano. One of the first times he ever rode at the track, he won six races in one day — Apr. 8, 2006. He was leading jockey the first three seasons once he settled here permanently. As great as Bejarano is, he said none of it would be possible without his agent Joe Ferrer.
“He knows how the pick the horses (I ride),” Bejarano said. “He doesn’t have a bad habit. He only works. Sometimes he works too much. Other people have things to do. Some people like to play golf, spend time with family or go out at night. My agent is very focused at what he does. He enjoys his work and that’s why we make a good team.”
Like any jockey on the local circuit, if the competition doesn’t get you, the dangers of the sport will. Bejarano felt that pain this past May when a spill during Santa Anita’s new spring meet led to two broken shoulder blades, a broken collarbone and a broken rib.
Bejarano was laid up at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena for several days following the fall and subsequent operation. The doctor’s prognosis was for him to miss between three and five months. Bejarano was back at work in four weeks.
Once Del Mar started, Bejarano was back to form and won the riding title, capping the meet with a six-win performance on Aug. 31. He credits his quick comeback to faith and the well wishes of fans and horsemen.
Impressive career aside, there’s one thing notably absent from Bejarano’s resume and that’s a win in the Kentucky Derby — or any of the Triple Crown races. The start of every Santa Anita meet always brings with it plenty of derby optimism and Bejarano is one of those hoping this is the year for him to win the sport’s biggest race.
“I’m still only 32-years old, so I have a few more shots,” Bejarano said. “I’m hoping this year I’m going to get that Kentucky Derby horse. It’s just a dream. When I was in jockey’s school, it was a dream for me to win the Kentucky Derby.
“If it happens, I’m going to be so happy. It’s what every jockey is waiting for, to win the Kentucky Derby. I know I’m going to have my opportunity some day. And I hope when the opportunity comes, I can win …some day.”
Judging by what Bejarano has done in recent years, that day might be sooner than later.