Puerto Rican jockeys have been making a big impact on North American racing ever since Angel Cordero first threw his leg over a Thoroughbred. Following him were names like John Velazquez, Irad and Jose Ortiz, and Manny Franco, among others. This generation of jockeys had one thing in common: they all attended the state-sponsored jockey school that operates at Camarero Racetrack.
For Edgar Morales, however, attending the school just wasn’t a possibility. His family lives in Aibonito, a mountainous city near the center of the island, while Camarero is in the northeast, at least an hour and a half drive away, and the family did not own a car.
Nonetheless, 20-year-old Morales is currently leading the jockey standings at Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet, and he has vaulted to the top of the conversation for the Eclipse Awards’ Outstanding Apprentice Jockey.
The only other apprentice to win a meet title at Churchill Downs was Julien Leparoux in the Spring of 2006.
A quiet and affable person, Morales’ eyes light up when he talks about the possibility of winning the Eclipse Award.
“I don’t know how you find out about something like that,” he said, laughing. “But it was one of our goals to try to see if we could win the Eclipse; it would help us to get more business.”
Ever practical, Morales is preparing to work even harder after losing the “bug,” or weight allowance granted to apprentice jockeys, on Nov. 17. His journeyman status doesn’t seem to have affected his ability to win races beneath the Twin Spires: Morales recorded wins on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend, and his 17 total wins at the fall meet have him three ahead of his nearest competitor.
Former jockey-turned-agent Julio Espinoza isn’t at all surprised at Morales’ success. In fact, the agent represented Morales’ older brother, Roberto, when he first came to Kentucky in 2011.
“He’s come a long ways,” Espinoza said. “His brother sent him to me. He’s one of the smartest riders I’ve ever had. He listens, first of all, and he’s naturally intelligent anyways. He’s polite, quiet. Everybody likes him, and that’s a big key.”
Roberto Morales had the advantage of being able to attend the Puerto Rican jockey school and developed a good business in Louisiana, but circumstances had changed by the time his younger brother graduated high school at age 16.
Used to “racing” the family’s Paso Finos with his friends, Edgar Morales wasn’t a total stranger to horsemanship. When Roberto sent him a plane ticket to meet up in Louisiana, however, Edgar quickly realized Thoroughbreds were a whole different ball game.
Edgar Morales started from the bottom of the racetrack totem pole. He hotwalked horses for several months, then learned how to be groom through the rest of his first year in the U.S. Throughout this time Morales worked in the barn of trainer Karl Broberg, supervised by assistant trainer Abel Ramirez.