From Gulfstream Park
Having established himself as one of the leading riders in Jamaica over the past six years, jockey Dick Cardenas is starting over in an attempt to advance his career in the United States.
Cardenas, 29, recently moved his tack to Gulfstream Park for the Championship Meet, where he made his North American debut on December 19. Following a trip home to be with his ailing father, the Panama native has returned to South Florida.
“I like Florida. It’s a very nice track, and I love the people,” Cardenas said. “I love the racing here.”
Cardenas was encouraged to become a jockey by his childhood friend, Fernando Jara, a fellow Panamanian who won the 2006 Belmont Stakes (G1) with Jazil and the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and 2007 Dubai World Cup (G1) aboard Invasor.
“From the time I was little, I wanted to be a jockey,” Cardenas said. “I grew up with Fernando Jara and we were like family. All the time he talked to me about being a jockey and I said that I wanted to be a jockey, too. When he started riding, he called me and said it was time for me to start riding.”
After graduating from the Laffit Pincay Jr. Jockey School, Cardenas was the leading apprentice in Panama before being brought to Jamaica by trainer Percy Hussey and his mother, Ruth, in October 2008.
Cardenas won with his first starter in Jamaica, the Hussey-trained St Bess, at odds of 19-1, and earned his first major victory in the Supreme Ventures Jamaica 2-year-old Stakes that December.
During his stay on the island, Cardenas swept the Jamaican Triple Crown – the 2000 Guineas, Jamaica Derby and St. Leger – on Mark My Word in 2010, and registered his second Derby victory aboard Technomoto in 2011.
Cardenas won six consecutive races on one program in September 2011 and captured the Jamaica Gold Cup twice, on Hail the Genius and Saint Cecelia. The country’s champion jockey in 2011 with 103 victories, he wound up second to Dane Nelson in 2014 after leaving the island on December 10 with five racing days left to be with his father.
“I rode in Jamaica for six years and I did very well,” Cardenas said. “I won every big race there. I went to look after my dad, and I was going back to Jamaica but I said I am going to Miami because it is a better track. All my life I wanted to ride in the U.S. because I see the races on TV and I wanted to ride here at these great tracks.”
Cardenas was winless with his first four mounts at Gulfstream, three of them for trainer Allen Maragh. He is hoping to follow in the footsteps of riders such as Jamaica’s Rajiv Maragh and Shaun Bridgmohan and fellow Panamanians Jara, Jose Lezcano, Gabriel Saez, Hall of Famer Alex Solis, Elvis Trujillo and Cornelio Velasquez who have had success in recent years in the U.S.
Panama has also produced retired Hall of Fame riders Laffit Pincay, Jr., Braulio Baeza, Manny Ycaza, Jacinto Vasquez and Jorge Velasquez.
“I remember in my time some very good jockeys coming from Panama,” Cardenas said. “I watch some very good jockeys like John Velazquez, Jose Lezcano, Fernando Jara, Cornelio Velasquez and I want to be like them. I want to stay here in the U.S. and ride because it is better for me.”