There are a few requirements for acceptance to the Escuela La Vocacional Hipica jockey school in Puerto Rico.
Be over 16 years of age. Graduate from ninth grade. Weigh no more than 103 pounds and stand no taller than 5-foot-3. And have permission from a parent or guardian.
Having previously been astride a horse is not a requirement.
Which turned out to be a good thing for Evin Roman, the 19-year-old apprentice who is currently the sensation of the Southern California Thoroughbred racing circuit.
Three years ago, when he enrolled at the school, which had produced riders like Jose and Irad Ortiz, Jr., prominent on the New York circuit, Manny Franco and Luis Ocasio, the Eclipse award winning apprentice of 2016, Roman’s experience on horseback was – zero.
The son of Jorge Roman, a car dealership worker, and Catherine Martinez, had been to the races with his father many times and had a notion to become part of the scene.
“When I saw the jockeys ride I got interested and asked my father to get me in to the jockeys’ school,” Roman said earlier this week through his agent Tony Matos. Meeting all the requirements, Roman got his father to sign the papers and took the initial step toward fulfilling the dream he’s now living.
The first three months were spent learning about horses from the ground up – cleaning stalls, grooming, hot-walking and other basic skills. His first time in the saddle was, Roman said, “Emotional,” even if it was only slowly around a ring.
Was one of the emotions fear?
“No, he’s fearless,” Matos said. “From the first time he got up on a horse.”
The degrees of difficulty increased in riding lessons for the next nine months and Roman (pronounced Roh-MAHN) was a consummate learner and applier of what he had learned.
“What can you say? He’s a natural,” Matos said.
Last September he was chosen to represent the school at a race in England for international apprentices who still maintained amateur status – and he won it. Two months later he finished fourth in a similar event in Dubai.
Returning to Puerto Rico and securing his professional license at the start of this year, Roman made the winner’s circle for the first time on January 5. “It was emotional and sentimental, because it was the (culmination) of three years of school,” Roman said.
Matos, a Puerto Rican himself, has been an agent for Hall of fame riders Angel Cordero, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Victor Espinoza, Kent Desormeaux and Gary Stevens in his lengthy career. He had the book for Eclipse Award-wining apprentice Frank Lovato, Jr., in 1980 and Southern California circuit standout Corey Nakatani in 1988.
But Matos had an opening for a rider at the start of the year and contacted a friend in Puerto Rico about prospects there. The friend recommended Roman, but cautioned the word was that Roman was headed for the East Coast to start his American career.
After viewing videos, Matos got on the phone to Roman. Matos’ reputation preceded him and discussions with Roman and his family led to the rider coming to Southern California.
Roman rode his first mount at Santa Anita on February 9 and rode his first winner there nine days later. His talent was evident, but he made what would be termed “rookie mistakes” in other sports and received three suspensions early on.
He turned the negatives into a positive, Matos said, by studying the films of the suspension-producing rides and consulting with seasoned riders like Hall of Famers Mike Smith and Stevens, and several others who helped him out.
Roman blossomed during the Santa Anita spring-summer meeting, winning 41 races. In a remarkable streak from May 11 to June 17, he won 25 times from 114 mounts, tops of all riders at the track during that span to increase his total to 28 and move to fourth in the standings.
He would win 13 more in the final two weeks of the meeting. Flavien Prat had to win two on closing day to tie Roman for the riding championship. Roman thus became the first apprentice to claim a Santa Anita crown in 68 years.
The last was Gordon Glisson in 1949.
The short Los Alamitos meeting between Santa Anita and Del Mar was totally dominated by Roman. He won 13 races to five for his closest pursuer.
Through the first 12 of Del Mar’s 36-day racing season, Roman was atop the standings with 15 wins, four more than both five-time defending meet champion Rafael Bejarano and Prat, who tied Bejarano for the 2016 crown.
Five apprentices have won riding championships in Del Mar’s 77 summer seasons. The first was Bill Shoemaker in 1949. The last was Steve Valdez in 1973.
And on the 10th day of the meeting, Roman recorded his first Del Mar stakes victory, guiding the juvenile filly Show It N Moe It to a 1 ½-length victory in the CTBA.
“Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t ride a bug boy without the (five pound allowance) in a stakes race,” trainer Gary Sherlock said. “But he rode her well last time and he’s just a very good rider.”
Roman spends most of his time away from the track immersed in his profession by studying race replays and talking about the game with insiders, Matos said. Roman is working on his English via Rosetta Stone tapes and the use of closed captioning on TV movies and shows.
His family – he has an 18-year-old sister Cariolys – and his girlfriend of several years, Andrea, sometimes come to visit. Andrea can be especially understanding of her boyfriend’s situation. She is enrolled at the same jockey school in Puerto Rico he went through and is halfway through the program now.