Wednesday, 21 June 2017 12:50

Who are those guys?

Written by Curtis Stock
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Borrowed from one of my favourite movie lines - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - when train robber Butch grows perplexed by the relentless pursuit of a U.S. posse, the same question can be asked about this year’s plethora of new Alberta jockeys. So, again, we ask ‘Who are those guys?’

Maybe this will help:

Rigo Sarmiento

A veteran of over 1,700 wins, Sarmiento has been the leading rider in Venezuela at the La Rinconada racetrack in Caracas the last two seasons. Cool and poised, Sarmiento, who has ridden for 25 years, came to Alberta at the advice of former childhood friend, Larry Munoz, one of Northlands top jockeys who has ridden in Edmonton the last four years.

“The political climate in Venezuela is not the best right now,” Sarmiento, 41, said through Munoz, who acted as interpreter. (The economy in Venezuela is not good either evidenced by an inflation rate that the International Monetary Fund estimates will be as high as 2,068.5 percent by next year.) “My friend Larry made the invitation and I am grateful and grateful to be here,” said Sarmiento, who has also ridden at Florida’s Gulfstream Park and Ohio’s Thistledowns.

“Larry made it possible. It has been a dream of mine to ride together again. Like when we were younger. “I love the city, I love the country. I find the people here very friendly. So far it has met all my expectations. My biggest goal is to make a good impression - both as a rider and as a person. I’m very focused. My English is not very good but I am willing to learn.”

Sarmiento, who doesn’t have any family members that are involved in horse racing - his mother was a stay-at-home mom and his dad is a retired contractor - said he showed up at the track in Venezuela as a 14-year-old and made his riding debut when he was 17. “When I was a child I would watch the jockeys and see how the successful ones were treated as celebrities.”

Last year Sarmiento was hailed as one of those stars when he won Venezuela’s biggest race - the Simon Bolivar Classico riding Jorge Zeta to victory on a sloppy track that Sarmiento has saved on his cell phone. “It is a race we all dream to win. It is like the Kentucky Derby or your Canadian Derby.”

Brandon Duchaine

A native of Toronto, Duchaine enrolled in the Olds College Exercise Rider and Jockey Training Program four years ago. After graduating Duchaine, 25, started riding at Grande Prairie, went back to Toronto and rode at Woodbine and Fort Erie. “I had eight wins at Fort Erie and three or four at Woodbine but I had lots of seconds and thirds.”

Duchaine almost has that bettered already given that he has six wins, four seconds and eight thirds at Northlands so far this year. “I’m more than ecstatic. I wouldn’t be riding half as many horses if it wasn’t for the people that I am riding for. “I love it here. And I love the people I’m working with every day.”

Duchaine, who is still and apprentice, said the Rycroft family has been a big influence on his career. “I met them in Grande Prairie. My intention was just to be a gallop rider but they pushed me farther. They knew I had the weight and the ability.” Another person who helped Duchaine was Peter McAleney, whose cousin Jim McAleney, was a top rider at Northlands before moving onto Ontario.  “He was also a big influence on my becoming a jockey. Peter was galloping for the Rycrofts. He really helped me too.”

Ridge Balgobin

The champion apprentice rider in Trinidad, Balgobin wasn’t supposed to be a jockey. “My father, Ralph, was a jockey and he didn’t want me to ride because he had a bad fall - he broke some ribs and damaged his back - and he didn’t want that to happen to me,” said Balgobin. “But I loved riding too much so I got my cousin to teach me,” he said of Keishan, who, in just his second season at Northlands, is one of Alberta’s top jockeys and who rode in Trinidad for seven years.

Another cousin, Keshore, is also a jockey. Just 19, Ridge, was only four-years-old when he rode his first horse. A natural lightweight, Balgobin only weighs 105 pounds. “I can eat whatever I want. I eat in front of some of the other jockeys and it makes me laugh because they can’t,” said Balgobin, who runs a lot - not to lose weight but for fitness.

In just 16 mounts at Northlands Balgobin has five seconds and three thirds. “But I don’t have a win yet. I want to win, winning is much better than running second or third.” That shouldn’t take long.

“Most of his mounts have been on real long shots,” said his agent, Ken Gilkyson. “Twenty-to-one, 30-1 and more. “He arrived here late so he hasn’t been able to get a lot of mounts. “I think he’s going to be a real good rider. I just need to get him a couple of wins and he’ll take off. “He’s very polite. He’s kind of shy but a little cocky at the same time which is good. He’s got the will to be a top rider,” continued Gilkyson. “He can do anything. He’s come from dead last and he’s put horses that haven’t shown a lot of speed before on top. “And he gets away from the gate really well.”

“My goal is to be the leading apprentice rider here too,” said Balgobin. “I should be winning races.”

Kyle Carter

Carter isn’t exactly a new rider. He rode here from 2010 to 2013. But the following year he went back to Barbados where he was that country’s leading rider in 2015. “I missed home,” said Carter, 24, who won last Saturday’s Spangled Jimmy with 2016 Horse of the Year Ready Intaglio, for his return to Barbados. This year he returned to Alberta.

“I missed Edmonton,” he said. “It’s like a second home to me now.  “My plan was to come back to Edmonton last year. But I got in a spill in Barbados last March and broke my wrist when I landed pretty badly. “By the time it healed it was already half way through the racing season in Alberta. So I stayed in Barbados.”

Carter was in a horrific looking accident in 2012 at Northlands when he was thrown over the inside railing when his mount tried to jump it. That ‘derailed’ him for three weeks with torn tissues in his shoulder when he landed hard on the concrete on the inside of the rail. “It looked worse than it was. I watched the replays several times. It was pretty scary just watching it.”

Carter says he has closely watched and studied two other now Alberta-based champion riders that came from Barbados: Rico Walcott and Quincy Welch. “I’ve tried to combine their styles. I can be as patient as Quincy and as aggressive as Rico,” he said of the two jockeys who have each led the Alberta jockey standings six times. “I watch them ride and then I watch the replays with them. I watch them how to see a race better, how to save ground, when to tip out and when not to tip out.”

It was Carter’s dad, Everick, who planted the seeds for his career path. “Yeah, it’s all his fault,” Carter laughed. “He was a big racing fan and he used to take me to the races when I was really young. He also took me to the track in the mornings just to let me watch the horses train. “He wanted to be a jockey too but his mom wouldn’t let him. She, my grandmother, didn’t want me to be a rider either. She was scared as hell. But I immediately fell in love with it.”

So smitten by horse racing, Carter was only 12 when he tried to get into a Barbados riding school. “They told me I was too young; you had to be 14. The lady in charge of the program could see the disappointment on my face and how keen I was to be a jockey that she let it slide.” Carter was 14 when he got a license to be a gallop rider; the following year he was already riding in races winning his first races.

“I was still in school - the equivalent of Grade 11 here - and I was already a jockey. I was the cool kid in school because of that. I worked hard then and I’m still working hard now.”

Who are those guys? Now you know.

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