'Dependable' DeCarlo quietly finding success in return to Aqueduct
By Jon Forbes | 03/04/2014 03:52 PM ET
In 1985, jockey Christopher DeCarlo won with his first mount when he rode Romeo's Mistress to a victory in a $25,000 claiming race at Aqueduct Racetrack. Things have come full circle for DeCarlo 29 years later as the 45-year-old veteran has found himself back at the Big A after establishing himself as a top rider in New Jersey, competing overseas, and having a brief foray as a stock broker.
DeCarlo, who lives in Oceanport, N.J., formerly competed at Gulfstream Park in the winter before spending the first part of 2011 in Saudi Arabia, where he won 26 races, including the Group 3 National Guard Cup, from 108 starts. For the past three winters he has remained closer to home, splitting his time between Parx Racing, Aqueduct, and Tampa Bay Downs in 2012 and riding almost exclusively at Aqueduct in 2013 and 2014.
Through Monday, DeCarlo has won 1,077 races in North America during his career and has won with nine of his 48 mounts at Aqueduct since racing switched to the inner track on December 11.
"I started here, so it's always been my home," said DeCarlo. "A lot of the jockeys I started with aren't here anymore, so it's a whole new colony. Todd [Pletcher] has given me a shot. David Jacobson and George Weaver have been helpful to me, and when you ride for guys like that you can't help but win because they do such a fantastic job."
DeCarlo's decision to compete in New York stems from his desire to remain with his family.
"Once my daughter [Nina] started school I didn't want to be far away from her, so the logical thing was to come back here [to Aqueduct]," said DeCarlo, 44. "I can go home every night. The drive is rough. The only thing that really stinks are the tolls. I have to ride two races just to break even, but the money is here. If you win one race here it's like winning three races in New Jersey."
Originally from Edison, N.J., DeCarlo has benefited throughout his long career from the support of Hall of Famers Angel Cordero, Jr. and Jorge Velasquez, literally since his infancy.
"My grandfather was a singer in Puerto Rico and was really famous," said DeCarlo. "He always wanted to be a jockey but got too big. He was friends with Angel's dad. [Cordero, Velasquez, and my grandfather] always used to be together. When I was born [Cordero] told my grandfather, 'If he stays small, we're going to make him a jockey.' That's all I wanted to do, and I'm living my dream. Even to this day he still helps me. I had two of the best teachers ever."
DeCarlo's biggest win of his career came at age 17 when he guided Wise Times to a triumph in the 1986 Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Handicap. Wise Times added a score in the Travers in next start, but DeCarlo was injured and was unable to ride that day.
In the early 1990s, DeCarlo temporarily quit riding in order to become a stock broker, but the allure of horse racing remained too strong and he soon found himself back in the saddle.
"I got my stock broker's license in 1990, and I did that for a year, a year and a half," said DeCarlo. "The only reason I got into it was because my dad had been in the business. I didn't get any real satisfaction out of making a sale. Had I gone to school and had that programmed into me, it would have been a bigger deal than it was, but after riding horses and winning races you always want to compete. I got the opportunity to ride in France, and I jumped at it. When I jumped at it, I realized this is what I really want to do with my life."
DeCarlo's primary base since 2001 has been Monmouth Park, where he is Todd Pletcher's first-call rider.
"It's a relationship that has developed over the years," said Pletcher. "He's one of Angel's protégés, and Angel always promoted him. He started riding stakes horses out of town, and we had a high strike rate. Once he moved his tack to Monmouth, we continued to have success, which made it a logical relationship."
Since 2012, DeCarlo has won 14 stakes, and seven of those victories have come aboard horses trained by Pletcher, including the 2012 Queens County with San Pablo and 2013 Busanda with Princess of Sylmar at Aqueduct.
"Chris is an intelligent rider who seldom makes mistakes and is deceptively strong," said Pletcher. "He's not a flashy rider, which sort of hides his ability, but he's one of the most dependable riders you can find."