Keishan Balgobin rides thoroughbreds for a living. But he said he’d really like to ride a different breed of animal - bulls. Yup, wild, ornery, maniacal bulls. “My dad owned a few bulls back home in Trinidad and Tobago,” said the 26-year-old Northlands jockey. “I loved getting on them. Sure it’s a dangerous sport but I’m brave. After you ride one bull you want to do it again and again.”
There was, however, no chance Balgobin, who watched a lot of the Calgary Stampede on TV, was going to be a rodeo cowboy. With his father a thoroughbred trainer, and an uncle, a brother and a couple of cousins jockeys, Balgobin was born into the business as surely as Jane Fonda was born to be an actress.
“As much as I wanted to ride bulls I knew I was going into thoroughbred racing.” It was probably a wise choice.
Although he missed the first five weeks of the current Northlands thoroughbred meeting because of immigration paperwork, Balgobin has quickly been making up for lost time. Winning two more races on Wednesday’s program, Balgobin has now won 17 of his 96 mounts. “He’s already in the top five in the jockey standings,” said Northlands racing secretary Jason Teague. “The kid can ride.” That’s for sure.
Last year, Balgobin rode in Vancouver where he finished third in the jockey standings - once winning seven races in a row: his last three on a Friday night and the next four the following race card. Last weekend he won a pair of $50,000 stakes races for runaway leading trainer Greg Tracy: the sensational two-year-old Fall At Last and the dominant aged horse, Blue Dancer.
“He’s a good kid, a real good rider and he works hard,” said his agent Bob Fowlis, who also handles leading rider Rico Walcott as well as Ismael Mosqueira. “Keishan is especially good out of the gate which is very important on bull rings like Northlands. He sends them away from the gate and gets into good position,” said Fowlis.
Balgobin can also finish. ‘I was born left-handed so I can use the stick with both hands equally well,” said Balgobin. “I can be aggressive and I can be patient too. “In Trinidad and Tobago I rode on a one-mile track. Here it’s five-eighths of a mile. You can be more patient on a mile track; here everything is so fast. The first year I rode in Canada was an adjustment. But then I got the hang of it.”
Growing up with horses, Balgobin said his dad wouldn’t let him ride in Trinidad and Tobago until he was 17 and had finished high school. Even then his dad made sure the son knew the business inside out before putting him in the saddle. “I had to learn all of the groundwork: cleaning stalls, cleaning horses’ feet, feeding them, bathing them… Everything. “I’d go to work for my father early in the morning, go home and shower and then go school.”
After riding for seven years in Trinidad and Tobago Balgobin came to Canada in 2013 arriving first at Marquis Downs in Saskatoon before making his way to Vancouver’s Hastings Park where he rode for three seasons. Dissatisfied with racing just two days a week at Hastings - Northlands races three days a week and has 25 more racing days than in Vancouver - it didn’t take Fowlis much convincing to get Balgobin to ride in Edmonton.
“It’s been nice riding here. People at the track here have been super nice,” said Balgobin. “But I would like to ride more often. That would keep me more focused; I learn something every race.” The way things have been going lately and with Quincy Welch sidelined by a dislocated shoulder getting more mounts shouldn’t be a problem especially with Fowlis finding him so many live mounts.
“Bob knows every horse on the grounds,” said Balgobin. “When he puts you on a horse, I know it’s going to be a horse that has a good chance to win.” “More and more trainers are starting to notice Keishan,” said Fowlis. “If you are riding for the right people with the right horses then you are going to win races.”
Two of those ‘right’ horses are the aforementioned Fall At Last and Blue Dancer. Fall At Last won his debut by 12 3/4 lengths and then won last Saturday’s Edmonton Juvenile by 12 1/2 lengths speeding through gasping fractions of :22 1/5 and :44 3/5 seconds. “He’s all about running,” said Balgobin who likes to spend his free time watching movies on TV or hiking in the outdoors. “He’s a different horse every time I’ve worked him. He’s getting faster and faster and better and better.
“He needs to learn how to relax. But I think after a few more races he’ll settle down. “I’m just glad that the barn let me ride him. They could have picked anyone but they picked me.”
As for Blue Dancer, Balgobin said the four-year-old looks like he is good enough to send to a major track. “He know what is going on. He’s a classy guy.”
Blue Dancer has demonstrated that he is something special from the beginning when he won all four of his Northlands races before being sent to Santa Anita for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. There, Blue Dancer led for the first half mile before tiring. Blue Dancer has only lost one of his eight career starts at Northlands - the loss coming in the mile and three-eighths Canadian Derby.
Three for three this year, Blue Dancer wore down Killin Me Smalls - duelling on the outside - for a half length victory in the June 18 Spangled Jimmy winning by half a length in what, so far, has been the race of the year. Last Saturday, Killin Me Smalls’ connections opted to lay off the pace and make one big run at Blue Dancer.
“That didn’t work either,” smiled Balgobin as he sailed wire-to-wire winning by two and three quarter lengths in a race that went in 1:44.16. By comparison the Count Lathum - albeit for three-year-olds went in 1:46.80 and the Madamoiselle - albeit for fillies and mares - went in 1:46.30. It was 10 lengths back to the third-place finisher. “And I just sat on him most of the way.”
Balgobin made a big leap of faith when he left Trinidad and Tobago to ride in Canada. But he’s not finished. “You have to take chances in life. “My goal is to ride a big horse in the Kentucky Derby or the Dubai World Cup. Every jockey wants that including myself. Everybody wants to get there one day. “You have to dream.” Even if it is about riding bulls again one day.
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