Rider Reflections: Jockeys Miss Fans, Morning Workouts In Unusual Del Mar Season

The summer of racing at Del Mar in 2020 has been, to put it mildly, unlike any other.

Jockeys, for example, have done their jobs wearing the mandatory accessory of a face mask in addition to the customary helmet, goggles and safety vest. That said, they’re still working at Del Mar, a place unlike any other.

So, out of curiosity, a number of the members of Del Mar’s colony were asked two questions: 1.) What has been the toughest part of being at Del Mar this summer? And 2.) What has been your favorite part of being at Del Mar this summer?

The answers, in alphabetical order.

BRICE BLANC – Toughest: “The first two weeks around here, when we were dealing with some of our riders and the COVID, was worrying. But since then, things are better. But you’ve got to deal with all the things surrounding our situation. You’ve got to be adapting all the time. What’s difficult for me is to ride with the mask. I had broken my nose years back and have some sinus issues, so I do my share of breathing through my mouth. It’s hard to breathe through your mouth with a mask. But we adapt. Most of the stuff is minor.”

Favorite:  “The usual here at Del Mar. It’s just a great place to be. It is one of my favorite summertime places to go racing. Deauville (in France) and Saratoga (in New York) and Del Mar. They’re the big three of summer locations. It’s very different at Del Mar this year without people; sort of like we’re naked. But it’s still Del Mar and that’s a good thing.”

ABEL CEDILLO – Toughest:  “The whole coronavirus situation. Dealing with all the things we have to deal with. We all do it, though, so you do it. Tougher might be dealing with the horses. Some of them run, some of them don’t. Sometimes they have a bad day. But I try my best every time and hope for the best.”

Favorite:  “I think my favorite down here is the beach. My little boy loves the ocean and I love taking him down there for walks. We really enjoy Del Mar for that.”

VICTOR ESPINOZA – Toughest:  “Dealing with the coronavirus business. I missed opening day at Del Mar because of it. I missed opening day! I never thought it would happen, but it did this year. That was hard.”

Favorite:  “Everything about Del Mar. It’s where I want to be. It’s why I come to the races. Everything I want is here. It is just great to win races at Del Mar.”

RUBEN FUENTES – Toughest: “For me, it was not being able to work horses in the morning. That was very tough, not being able to get to know them and get to understand them a little before they raced, especially with the 2-year-olds.”

Favorite: “We got to run. We’re very lucky to have a job and be working. A lot of people don’t right now.”

RICKY GONZALEZ – Toughest: “Not being able to work horses.”

Favorite: “Winning and meeting new people.”

MARIO GUTIERREZ — Toughest:  “I don’t think there’s anything tough about riding here. Same racetrack; same gate; same horses to ride. It’s all good. I’m happy to be here and racing.”

Favorite:  “I’m glad to be racing and having the chance to compete and make some money. I’m very happy that the people on the backside are able to work and take care of their families. Racing at Del Mar is a good thing.”

JUAN HERNANDEZ — Toughest:  “The toughest part for me has been keeping up with the competition. It’s tough here. I was here in 2012 and it’s a much different room. Very competitive. And, of course, the whole business of 2020. Everyone feels that. But what are you going to do? You follow the rules and hope for better times.”

Favorite:  “My favorite part of being here is the incredible horses. I’ve been riding some very good horses. And I’m enjoying being around these other riders. They’re friendly and they’re very good, so it’s giving me a chance to learn from them.”

TIAGO PEREIRA – Toughest: “Dealing with all the virus issues. Being careful about everything. I take showers before and after everything. I have a 4-year-old daughter and I must be very careful around her. We all have to do it; the masks, all of it. But that’s how it is.”

Favorite:  “I like being at Del Mar and riding here. One of my favorite places. I like the beach for my daughter. We go down there during the week and play. She likes the ocean. We go up to the quite section, up above Dog Beach. Not many people up there and we can just have fun.”

FLAVIEN PRAT – Toughest: “I definitely miss the fans. Del Mar has always been all about having people around having fun. It’s kind of sad not to see anybody.”

Favorite: “Just being able to ride, have a job and do something we love to do. There’s a lot of people who can’t right now.”

UMBERTO RISPOLI – Toughest: “I can’t share all the winners and the good meeting with owners, fans and family.”

Favorite: “Enjoying the summer, the beach and good times with my family and friends and having the chance to win a lot of races.”

MIKE SMITH – Toughest:  “I think the toughest overall has not been seeing any fans here. Del Mar is a social place. A place where people come to party and have fun. Not this year. It’s sad. It kind of takes the gas out of your balloon. For me personally, the protocols (travel restrictions for riders) have been tough. I’m a ‘traveling’ jock. I’d have been at Saratoga several times already. I think the protocols have probably cost me three Grade Is.”

Favorite:  “My favorite part is just being here. I love Del Mar. I want to end my career here. I love California and I especially love Del Mar.”

DRAYDEN VAN DYKE – Toughest:  “Having to be part of 2020 and the whole coronavirus thing. Plus all the other stuff going on in the country right now. The Black Lives Matter thing. It’s a very unsettled time for the country. It’s hard for a lot of people.”

Favorite:  “My favorite part of being at Del Mar is being at Del Mar. Right here ‘where the turf meets the surf.’ I’ve been riding some good horses and winning some big races. What’s not to like about it all. How can you have a frown on your face when you’re in San Diego?”

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