Vince DeGregory knows talent when he sees it.
The longtime jockey agent could open his own personal Hall of Fame with former clients such as Laffit Pincay, Jr, Chris McCarron, Darrel McHargue and Angel Cordero, Jr.
It should come as no surprise that his latest prospect, Gonzalo Nicolas, has burst into prominence as the leading apprentice rider during the Betfair Hollywood Park Autumn meet.
Nicolas, a 23-year-old native of Guatemala, came to the United States at 13. He attended Riverside High School, where he became a wrestling champion. Nicolas used his wrestling talents to work his way into mixed martial arts.
“He won nine of 11 professional cage fights,” said DeGregory.
Nicolas became interested in race riding and started working horses at Los Alamitos. He learned quickly and when given a chance, won with his first mount, guiding Ray's Storm to a 10-1 upset May 3.
By the time he won his third race, just a few mounts later, he was starting to get noticed.
“Martin Valenzuela told me to watch this kid,” recalled DeGregory. “I did and he introduced me soon after.”
DeGregory formed a plan for the young rider.
“I wanted to get him away from Los Alamitos,” he said. “It's all send, send, send over there. He needed to become a rider.”
DeGregory then made Nicolas an unusual offer.
“I told him I wouldn't charge him anything for three months and we'll see how it goes,'' he said. “I explained to him he was going to ride some bad horses for a while, but he'll learn. (Pincay) has been giving him advice and Martin Garcia has taught him some things about breaking from the gate.”
“One morning at Del Mar, he turned to me and said ‘Am I ever going to pay you?'”
After the financial arrangements were solidified, things started looking up for the apprentice. He rode his fifth winner Aug. 16 at Del Mar, which reduced his weight advantage from 10 to seven pounds.
“He has 23 wins right now and he'll get seven pounds until his 40th winner,” explained DeGregory. “Then he'll get five pounds until Aug. 16, 2014. He has a lot of time left with the bug.”
His eight victories this meeting place him sixth in the standings and have produced a $2.47 return (for each $2 wagered) on investment.
“I sent a tape of one of his fights to (McCarron),'' continued DeGregory. He said that if he rides like he fights, he's going to be a champion.”
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