Big Apple taking a shine to "Manny from Chicago"
By Jenny Kellner | 10/25/2013 01:08 PM ET
Like so many apprentice jockeys before him, Manny Esquivel brought youth, drive and athletic ability with him when he arrived in New York hoping to get a jump on the upcoming fall/winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack. The 23-year-old also brought with him a couple of things most bug boys could only dream of - a meet title at a major racetrack and the chance to ride for New York's leading trainer.
Esquivel, who began riding professionally at Hawthorne Race Course near Chicago in February, 2013, was the first apprentice to win the riding title at Arlington Park since Wendell Eads did so in 1940, bringing home 83 winners in the five-month meet that concluded on September 29.
A little more than two weeks later, at the behest of agent Bill Castle and trainer David Jacobson, Esquivel arrived at Belmont Park on October 14. After overcoming his initial shock - "I thought Arlington was big but Belmont is huge," he said - Esquivel won with his second mount, Writingonthewall, and also finished third in two other races, all for Jacobson. Heading into Friday's card, he was 2-2-5 from 27 mounts.
"Bill and I looked all around the country for a good bug rider to bring in," said Jacobson. "We decided he was the one we wanted to work with for the winter, and hopefully long after that. He's a very seasoned rider for an apprentice. He's just a real professional. He's patient, he waits, he knows how to save ground - he's a real gentleman. We looked into all this. Hopefully we'll have a lot of fun this winter."
Esquivel, whose wife and one-year-old daughter are staying in Chicago for the time being, hadn't thought about moving his tack East until the offer came from Castle, who also represents David Cohen.
"I don't know how he found me, but Bill Castle started calling me in September asking when I was coming to New York," said Esquivel (prounounced ess-KIH-vuhl). "Everyone wants an opportunity like that. It's a door for me to get into, and being able to ride for David Jacobson, it makes it less scary to start here. Anything can happen, but this could be a really good chance for me. Hopefully I will get a chance to prove I can ride and they won't regret giving me a chance."
Although he started his professional career relatively late, Esquivel's career path seemed preordained. At the age of eight, he moved with his family from Guerrero, Mexico to Chicago, where his uncle, an assistant to trainer Mike Reavis, found work for his parents on the backstretch at Hawthorne Race Course.
"When I was little, they would try to leave me home sleeping when they went to work," said Esquivel. "I would wake up really early to go to my dad's barn. Mike Reavis had a little pony and I would ride him around the barn. I enjoyed it and enjoyed being around the horses. Since I was little, I've always wanted to be a jockey."
After working in various capacities on the backstretch during the summer and on weekends, Esquivel dropped out of high school to become an exercise rider, hoping to soon trade in that license for one as a jockey. But immigration issues kept delaying his visa, and at one point he was ready to return to Mexico with his parents.
"Year after year, I didn't get it, but this year my visa came through, finally," he said. "The wait was worth it because I learned a little more every day I was waiting. You never stop learning. That's why being here is a really good opportunity to learn as much as I can. You have the best trainers, the best jockeys - it's another step towards my future."
Even in such a short time, Esquivel has made an impression on New York horsemen, and not just for his riding ability.
"He's a real gentleman," said trainer Gary Sciacca. "I think he's got a little ways to go here, but he's going to make it. He needs to get accustomed to riding here; he's going to have to get used to riding on the inner track, where you have to be more aggressive than here at Belmont or in Chicago.
"Winning the riding title at Arlington was a big feather in his cap," Sciacca went on. "He listens and he's a nice kid. His riding style, if you have to compare him to someone, is more like Ramon [Dominguez]. He sits high. They run for him, and he has Jacobson behind him, which is pretty good. He'll be fine."