If you are going to make a splash it might as well be a big one. Like the splash of a Sumo wrestler from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Just ask Edmonton-born jockey Mauricio Malvaez, who didn’t just get his first riding win of his fledgling riding career last week but he did it on a 50-1 longshot named Fairy Barb, who lit up the June 28 tote board in the 6th race at Century Mile like United States’ fireworks on the 4th of July.
With a perfect ride that you’d expect to see from Rico Walcott or Rigo Sarmiento, Malvaez, 23, got away second, took the lead down the backstretch of the 5 1/2 furlong race, widened it to three lengths at the top of the stretch and then comfortably prevailed by a length. Fairy Barb paid $111.60 to win. A $2 exactor paid $594.10. The superfecta returned $9,736 for a $1 ticket.
It wasn’t so much that Fairy Barb won it was how did this horse pay so much? After all, Fairy Barb certainly wasn’t without a chance. The four-year-old filly already had made two starts this year in Winnipeg. Only one other horse in the 10-horse field had made a start this year and that was the favourite Chicout d’Tiger. So you knew that Fairy Barb was fit and had a good bottom to her.
On top of that it wasn’t like her two starts were abysmal. In her first race of 2020 Fairy Barb ran second. In her previous race she had won at odds of under 2-1. How does a horse like that pay $111.60? In retrospect horse bettors had to be kicking themselves. Those kind of longshots are much more apt to have finished last or well up the track in their previous races. Or horses that hadn’t run in a long time.
Sure, Fairy Barb, who should have been named Fairy Tale, was moving up in class for owner Ryanne Danielle Lefebvre and trainer Lionel Joseph. But outside of Chicout d’ Tiger, who had won last time by nine and a half lengths for hot trainer Carson Frey the rest of the field were hardly superstars. And outside of Chicout d’ Tiger none of the others had raced this year before. And this is horse racing where things can go awry and change the whole complexion of the race which is exactly what happened on this particular day.
“To be honest I thought it was a tough race,” said Malvaez, the son of former jockey Marcos Malvaez, who is now a trainer. “A couple of horses were dropping in class and Carson’s horse had won his last start by more than nine lengths. “No, I wasn’t expecting to win. But I thought I might hit the board with her.”
Malvaez said he had a game plan going into the race. “I thought Carson’s horse would be in front and I wanted to lay just off the pace and finish hard. But it didn’t play out as I thought.”
Indeed it didn’t. Instead of going to the top Chicout d’ Tiger got squeezed badly at the start and got away last. Like I said, it’s horse racing. Without Chicout d’ Tiger to chase it turned out that Dazzling Chic broke on top from the rail and an alert Malvaez was right behind after leaving from post 6. And not for long. Pressured by Malvaez, Dazzling Chic stopped early leaving Fairy Barb all by herself going into the turn.
“When that happened I certainly wasn’t going to take her back at that point,” said Malvaez. “I was able to get away good. I asked her a little down the backstretch and she responded by going to the front."
"Around the last turn and at the top of the stretch we were in front pretty comfortably. They were closing at the end but my horse wasn’t stopping,” said Malvaez, who won by a length over Something About Me, who was making her first start of the year after seeing a lot of stakes action last year including winning the Sonoma Stakes. So, sure, Something About Me certainly figured too.
But… “Like I said I thought it was a tough race but I also thought we had a chance. She had momentum going for her with her previous win. I certainly didn’t think she deserved to be 50-1.”
Malvaez had never ridden Fairy Barb in a race before. But he had been on her back in the mornings. “I had galloped her earlier in the week and I liked the way she travelled.” Malvaez, who got a cold-water bucket shower from the other jockeys as is the custom when a jockey wins his first race, was close to winning a race last year.
“I finished second on a 30-1 shot I rode for my dad,” said Malvaez. “We lost by a nose. It was really tight and I didn’t know if I had won or lost. It was that close.” It was also the last day of the 2019 racing season in Calgary so Malvaez was denied the opportunity to capitalize off the near miss. Ironically, Malvaez’s dad, never got to see his son’s first win as a rider.
“I was in the barn getting my horse ready for the next race. I got a call from my brother Chris, who lives in California,” said Marcos, who won some 700 races as a rider - 500 in Canada and 200 in the U.S. and his birth home in Mexico. “Chris said ‘Did you see that?’ And I said ‘See what?’ Then Chris told me that Mauricio had just won on a 50-1 shot. “I was so happy.”
So was Mauricio, who appeared to be wiping tears from his eyes as he rode Fairy Barb into the winner’s circle. “I was really happy. Full of emotion. I couldn’t believe it. It was a crazy feeling.” Mauricio didn’t start riding until half way through last year’s racing season. Trying to break in as a jockey at that point in the calendar is tough because most trainers have already decided on their jockeys.
“I didn’t get many mounts,” said Mauricio. This year, however, Malvaez was there when Century Mile opened for spring training in February. “That way I was able to get into a lot of different barns. Like Ron Grieves, Dale Greenwood. Red Smith. It’s helped me get more mounts.”
Malvaez is hopeful that his first win will translate into many more. “The first win is always the hardest. Now I’ve got some momentum so I want to keep the ball rolling,” said Malvaez, who did just that winning again on Sunday with Grieves’ Bar None Ranches Out Front. The second favourite, returning $7.50 to win, Out Front vied for the early lead, took it early down the backstretch and then pulled away to a scintillating seven and three-quarter length victory.
More wins certainly appear to be in store. At the outset, even though his dad was a jockey, Mauricio didn’t plan on being a rider. “I wanted to be a boxer,” he said. “I used to fight in 108 to 130-pound weight classes.” And he was pretty good. He went to Nationals twice winning a silver and a bronze, won a national Golden Glove tournament in Cornwall, Ontario, and, in his biggest fight, lost a narrow decision in the Olympic qualifiers in Montreal in 2015.
“The Olympic qualifier was a close one. It could have gone either way,” said Mauricio, who fought as recently as this past February in St. Albert when he said he really wasn’t fit enough for that fight. “So I went to race riding. Because of my dad, who has been a great inspiration for me, I grew up around the track. I never got to see him ride because he had been retired as a jockey when I was born. But people always told me what a good rider he was. The first job I got at the track was cleaning tack for Ron Grieves. I was 12-years-old. Then I started grooming horses for him.”
And then, three years ago, Mauricio started galloping horses in the mornings. “I slowly started getting better until it got to the point where people told me I should ride. That I was small enough to be a jockey,” said Mauricio who now weighs 115 pounds so he that he can take full advantage of the 10-pound allowance an apprentice rider gets until he wins his fifth race.
“After boxing, getting down to 115 pounds was a bit of a struggle. But it’s not an issue anymore. I know I’m young and I have a lot to work on. But it’s coming around. I just want to be more consistent and improve. I’m more comfortable riding now. Hopefully I’ll get more live mounts. Then I can make a name for myself.”
Marcos certainly remembers his first win with a horse named Tax Girl in Mexico City in 1971 when he was 17-years-old. His son isn’t going to forget his first win either. “Never,” said Mauricio.
This past Friday’s handle of $634,986 was a season high easily surpassing the $571,000 bet on the opening day card. Sunday’s handle also outpaced the thoroughbred opener with $613,978 wagered.
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