Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘When I Win, Everybody Wins’

Upon learning of his nomination for the 2020 George Woolf Memorial Award, which recognizes riders whose careers and personal character garner esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing, jockey Luis Quinones found himself feeling overwhelmed.

“I don’t know how to explain how it makes me feel,” Quinones said. “There’s a lot of riders in the country, and to make the list is a big honor.”

He’s come a long way from his childhood of bareback match racing through the streets of Puerto Rico. 

In 2019, the 40-year-old rider won the second-highest number of races in the country, 314, trailing only champion jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. by a margin of 10 victories. 

Quinones rode primarily on the Ohio and West Virginia circuits, where he’s been based for most of his career. He often rides two tracks in the same day, starting off at Mahoning Valley or Thistledown in the afternoon and then riding the evening card at Mountaineer Park.

“His personality and his work ethic are as good as anybody,” said Quinones’ agent, Billy Johnson. “Honestly though, work ethic is second for me, and personality is number one. Anybody can work hard, but trainers don’t want to put up with riders who have a bad attitude. Every horse he rides, Luis tries to find something about the horse that might help it improve for its next start… Even when he loses, he tries to find something positive about the horse.”

“I try to be honest with people,” echoed Quinones. “And sometimes there’s a horse that I just don’t fit, and I tell the trainer that. It pays off in the long run.”

Last year was a difficult one for Johnson, who struggled with health problems for most of the summer. The agent was in and out of the hospital, and at one point had to be life-flighted from one hospital to another. Johnson wound up having surgery to put a stent in his heart. 

Quinones picked up a lot of the agent’s work himself; he called owners and trainers, got permission from the stewards to enter horses, and even scheduled his own mornings to breeze horses.

“You can not kick a man when he’s down,” explained the rider. “I stuck with him because when nobody believed in me, he did. He and I built what we have now; it wasn’t just me.”

The pair teamed up in late 2015 and have won over 1,000 races together. A 21-year veteran at the jockey agent game, Johnson used to represent jockey DeShawn Parker, who led the standings at Mountaineer for years. When Parker made the move to Indiana at the end of the 2015 season, he recommended that Johnson take on his friend, Quinones.

“DeShawn told me to give this kid a shot, and he’s done nothing but make me look good,” said Johnson. “He has groomed his talent to a level that nobody expected him to reach, and every year he’s improving… We win as a team and we lose as a team, and he just never gets upset when he loses.

“I keep using this word, but it’s so refreshing to work with someone who understands how the business works. Every night, we text each other about teamwork and if it was a bad day, we figure out how to make it better tomorrow.”

Quinones isn’t just loyal to his agent. He has a mantra: “When I win, everybody wins.”

To that end, he gives the exercise riders and grooms of his winning mounts between $25-$50, depending on the value of the race. He also brings donuts or other goodies to the barn of the winning horse for everyone on the team to enjoy.  

“I was a groom once, and I didn’t get any credit,” he explained.

Though his resume includes 1,895 victories, Quinones clearly remembers that he didn’t start out on top of the jockey colony. A regular at Mountaineer since it was called Waterford Park, he recalls a lot of tough days and injuries that caused him to have stops and starts in the early days of his career.

“I used to have to ride anything just to make a paycheck, but I was young and fearless,” he said, laughing. “It takes a toll on your body, of course, but I’m very disciplined with what I eat and how I stay in shape.”

Quinones hopes to ride another 10 years or so, but he’s realistic about preparing for the next leg of his career. He passed steward school in Kentucky and would like to work as a racing official when he retires from the saddle.

“I can’t just let go of racing,” said Quinones.

In the meantime, he expects he’ll stay on the same circuit. He and his wife have a house that’s located centrally between all three racetracks, and their three daughters are comfortable in their home. The youngest are 15-year-old twins, and Quinones enjoys taking them to evening dance classes during the quieter winter months.

“Here, I guess I might be a big fish in a little pond, and I’ve had calls to go elsewhere,” Quinones said. “Sure, I’ve got dreams, but you have to be realistic, and I’m comfortable here. I just want to keep improving every year, and so far it’s been paying off.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘When I Win, Everybody Wins’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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