Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Sometimes You Need To Take The Pride And Put It In The Back’

At just 33 years of age, Juan Alvarado was already among the top echelon of trainers in his native Dominican Republic. He had trained a Triple Crown winner, Dr. Calderon, in 1985, and had saddled the winners of some of the country’s most prestigious stakes races.

But in 1992, tragedy struck the local horse racing industry. The primary feed manufacturer shut down over Easter weekend and chemically cleaned its machinery – unfortunately, the chemicals were not properly cleaned up before manufacturing started again. As a result, the feed was poisoned; many racehorses died.

Alvarado had to make a choice. He could stay in the Dominican Republic and try to help the industry re-build after the devastating loss, or he could take his chances in the United States.

Wanting to provide a better life for his children, Alvarado chose the latter. He arrived in the U.S. with $500 in his pocket (“Maybe it was less than that!” Alvarado said, laughing), and humbled himself to take a job walking hots for trainer Fred Warren at Calder.

“I just thought, ‘I need to be in the track, it doesn’t matter what I do,’” Alvarado recalled. “Sometimes you need to take the pride and put it in the back; do what you need to do.”

By the second week Alvarado was promoted to grooming, and over the course of his nearly 12-year employment with Warren was made an assistant trainer and later a partner in a few of the horses. Alvarado moved to Ocala and began starting horses for Warren, developing his skills with young Thoroughbreds.

“I really appreciate that man,” Alvarado said of the late trainer. “He gave me my first chance here.”

Juan Alvarado with foal

In 2005, Alvarado took a job as the 2-year-old trainer for Fred Brei’s Jacks or Better Farm. He put his hands on every one of the farm’s biggest stars for the next decade, from 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Awesome Feather to 2017 Preakness contender Fellowship.

“We had so many good horses for Mr. Brei,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado’s name never graced the program, as he spent his days at the farm rather than at the track, but the lack of recognition didn’t really bother him.

“Even without the glory, Juan has been a happy man and a dedicated worker,” said his wife, Tamara Alvarado. “Juan has never worked a day in his life because he loves what he does.”

Alvarado’s favorite horse from his tenure at Jacks or Better was Jackson Bend, the multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire.

“As a baby he had a little problem in one leg in the back,” Alvarado recalled. “Me and my son, he’s worked for me for 10 years, we go every day and working with that horse until it was better. He’s a little crazy and he was my favorite.”

Alvarado took the job as the head trainer at Alan Cohen’s Arindel Farm in February of 2018 and has been quietly building on his success over the past two years.

His days start at 5 a.m. and go until at least 4 p.m., overseeing every aspect of the horses’ training and care and putting his hands on all of them each day.

“You know the time you’re coming, but not the time you’re leaving,” he said, laughing easily. Working hard has never been a problem for the father of nine children, ranging in age from 34 to 13.

Last week, Alvarado sent out a pair of 2-year-old maiden special weight winners at Gulfstream, Quinoa Tifah and Gatsby, each of whom upset a heavily favored runner trained by juvenile specialist Wesley Ward.

“It’s exciting, when you do well,” Alvarado said. “And babies, by the time they started breezing and they start running, it’s like you got your own kids playing baseball… I don’t know how to explain it.”

With 11 winners from 72 starters thus far in 2020, Alvarado is on track for his best year yet. He has several talented 2-year-olds coming up the pipeline and is really looking forward to getting them on the track over the next several months.

“I really appreciate all the people at Arindel who give me the big chance, the big opportunity,” Alvarado said. “We work as a team here, the farm, the horses in Gulfstream with Heather Smullen, everything goes together… If we don’t have a team like that, it doesn’t matter how hard I work at the farm, if they don’t follow it up on the track, I don’t know what would happen.”

In 1988, Juan Alvarado poses in the winner’s circle with his eldest daughter on his shoulders – at the “Perla” racetrack in the Dominican Republic

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Sometimes You Need To Take The Pride And Put It In The Back’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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