Can Arroyo make this comeback last?

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Norberto Arroyo, Jr. Norberto Arroyo, Jr.
Norberto Arroyo Jr. could always ride. His problems began when the races were over.
Now 35 years old, Arroyo is making a comeback after serving time in prison on drug charges stemming from an August 2009 arrest for cocaine possession in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. It wasn’t his first brush with the law.
After being released from prison earlier this year, Arroyo, his wife Brenda and four children relocated from New York to Kentucky, and he began the process of trying to get his racing license reinstated. He received a conditional license from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in October and got back in the saddle at the start of the Turfway Park meeting that began Nov. 29.

Norberto Arroyo Jr. could always ride. His problems began when the races were over.

Now 35 years old, Arroyo is making a comeback after serving time in prison on drug charges stemming from an August 2009 arrest for cocaine possession in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. It wasn’t his first brush with the law.

After being released from prison earlier this year, Arroyo, his wife Brenda and four children relocated from New York to Kentucky, and he began the process of trying to get his racing license reinstated. He received a conditional license from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in October and got back in the saddle at the start of the Turfway Park meeting that began Nov. 29.

From just 19 mounts, he’s ridden seven winners, with two seconds and a third. Arroyo’s two victories on Friday night put him atop the Turfway Park jockey standings and only two wins shy of 1,000 career winners. Thanks to agent Scott Ward, he’s got a busy weekend, with nine scheduled mounts on Saturday and seven on Sunday.

Arroyo tells Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee that “everything is going in the right direction. I’ve got the tools back after being off over three years. I’m feeling as good as I used to.”

Arroyo was New York’s winningest jockey in 2000 when he rode 188 winners, though he lost out to Tyler Baze in that year’s Eclipse Award voting for outstanding apprentice. Baze has had his own problems with alcohol addiction and only recently returned to riding in Southern California after a year-long absence.

“It’s not going to be like before where I let myself get into the wrong spots,” Arroyo told Daily Racing Form. “I’ve got a family that has been there for me. I’m not letting them down.”

If that sounds familiar, let’s flash back to late July 2009, when the Albany Times-Union profiled Arroyo, who at the time was coming back from a six-month suspension imposed by the New Jersey Racing Commission. 

“I’m taking things a lot more serious than I ever have,” Arroyo said in 2009. “I’ve had my problems in life, but this time I hit the bottom.”

Not quite.

Less than three weeks later, he was found in possession of 12 grams of cocaine during a traffic stop only blocks away from Saratoga racecourse.

A lot of people are hoping this comeback lasts a lot longer.

UPDATE: In Saturday’s 10th race at Turfway Park, Arroyo reached the 1,000-win milestone aboard Mac the Man. Following is a press release from Turfway Park:

Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. counted his 1,000th career win Saturday when Mac the Man made a sweeping move on the turn to get home first by 8 1/2 lengths in the 10th race at Turfway Park.

The winner’s circle was crowded with family and fans wishing Arroyo well as he continues a budding comeback.  The jockey’s success on the racetrack periodically has been sidetracked by legal troubles, most recently a 30-month prison sentence for a drug conviction handed down in New York in 2010.  He was released after one year and returned to riding this fall on the strength of a conditional license granted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.  It’s an opportunity he recognizes and appreciates.

“Nobody has any idea what this means to me,” said Arroyo, married and the father of four.  “These last three-and-a-half years have been very, very tough, not only on me but on my family.  I put my kids through hell by making the mistake I made and going away.  Nobody thought that I would get back, but when times seemed impossible, I never lost my faith in God, and I knew it was going to happen sometime.  Right now what’s happening is God’s will, so let it be done.  

“The horse racing industry is going to see an Arroyo they’ve never seen before.  I finally learned my lesson.  I learned it the hard way, but I learned it.”

Arroyo, a 35-year-old native of Puerto Rico, began riding in 1999, winning with his third mount, Iron Lady, on June 9 at Rockingham Park.  He was runner-up for the Eclipse Award as Thoroughbred racing’s leading apprentice in 2000 and was New York’s leading rider that year.

Among Arroyo’s 1,000 wins are 65 stakes races, 14 of them graded.  Most of those trophies were earned in New York, but the biggest win of his career came at Turfway in 2003 aboard New York Hero in the $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes (G2), now the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes.  Altogether, from 7,317 mounts, Arroyo has accumulated purse earnings of more than $38 million.

Arroyo immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 11 years old.  He played baseball and basketball in early high school but when he realized he would not gain the height to continue those sports, he shifted his attention to race riding.  A cousin, Enrique Arroyo, now an East Coast-based trainer, was a leading rider in Puerto Rico in the mid-1980s and introduced him to the sport.

Arroyo intends to continue riding at Turfway through the track’s winter meet, which ends March 30.

Mac the Man, a 2-year-old El Corredor colt, is trained by Jeff Greenhill for his wife, owner Sherri Greenhill.  The win was his second in five starts, all on all-weather surfaces.  Arroyo said the colt didn’t look the best on form but warming up he knew he had the best horse.  

“He’s still learning how to run, really,” the jockey said.  “Leaving the half-mile pole I started to get a little bit into him, just helping him pay attention.  Then at the three-eighths pole I started smooching at him, and from the quarter-pole I didn’t have to do much.”

Saturday’s 10th race, an allowance test over 6 1/2 furlongs, was a prep for the Turfway Prevue Stakes on Jan. 5, itself the first of three preps for the Spiral Stakes in March. 

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  • Jack

    always detested this jockey….utterly clueless…passive riding, guesser, gets zero run from his horses, and often puts other jocks in danger with his careless riding.

    • Len Willschick

      It wasn’t always that way. When he first started he was pretty impressive. As his life spiraled down, so did the quality of his racing.

  • Jack

    always detested this jockey….utterly clueless…passive riding, guesser, gets zero run from his horses, and often puts other jocks in danger with his careless riding.

  • Concerned Observer

    Wow imagine that another felon in racing.

    • Tina

      Sanctimonius much CO? There are felons in every sport, just as there are in every board room, every church, and government.

      Glad to know you think there’s at least one perfect soul in this world.

      • Concerned Observer

         Tina thanks for the info on a “perfect soul” :) However its apathy and broad sweeping mis placed generalizations like yours that creates trouble in all levels of society. Get this if you commit certain crimes you lose privileges and standing in society go figure…

        • Tina

          Normally I wouldn’t reply to a response as ridiculous and just plain stupid as yours, CO, but I can’t help myself. Are you kidding me, lecturing anybody about ‘broad sweeping mis placed (sic) generalizations’? That’s exactly what you did when you categorized Arroyo as ‘another felon’. You must know that, right? Or are you simply too impressed with yourself to get that?

          YOU get THIS: if a person commits a crime and gets caught he serves a penalty, depending on the severity of his crime. After he has served that punishment he has satisfied his debt to society and is free to go about providing for himself and his family. I’m not sure of the ‘standing in society’ of which you speak – did Martha Stewart or Nelson Bunker Hunt suffer that when they were found to have done wrong? I don’t think so. And one would be hardpressed to find anybody in racing who thinks the sport carries a higher social standing than the general populace.

          Here’s a suggestion Observer. Why don’t you keep your mean, broad and general statements to yourself, along with the ridiculous reasoning you use to support said statements. Then perhaps the sport of racing will enjoy a little bit more class than it normally does.

      • Bonniemcdo

        He did serve his time. I think if you do that you deserve to try and make a living.  He rode one of my horses and did a very good job. I know he has been in trouble but I do hope this time he can stay out of trouble and keep his job for his sake and the sake of his family. 

  • Concerned Observer

    Wow imagine that another felon in racing.

  • Len Willschick

    It wasn’t always that way. When he first started he was pretty impressive. As his life spiraled down, so did the quality of his racing.

  • Tina

    Sanctimonius much CO? There are felons in every sport, just as there are in every board room, every church, and government.

    Glad to know you think there’s at least one perfect soul in this world.

  • Concerned Observer

     Tina thanks for the info on a “perfect soul” :) However its apathy and broad sweeping mis placed generalizations like yours that creates trouble in all levels of society. Get this if you commit certain crimes you lose privileges and standing in society go figure…

  • Bonniemcdo

    He did serve his time. I think if you do that you deserve to try and make a living.  He rode one of my horses and did a very good job. I know he has been in trouble but I do hope this time he can stay out of trouble and keep his job for his sake and the sake of his family. 

  • Look @ Your Past

    Stop knocking this guy! We ALL had our bad times in life… I am confident he will prove you ALL wrong… By the way he got his 1,000th win tonight.

    • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

      AMEN!!!…ty…

  • Look @ Your Past

    Stop knocking this guy! We ALL had our bad times in life… I am confident he will prove you ALL wrong… By the way he got his 1,000th win tonight.

  • Ohio Bred Girl

    He’s going to hear all kinds of “yeah, right, sure, same old-same old.”  Others’ opinions will be as difficult to negotiate as the usual difficulties of a jockey’s life.  How about this? If you’re the praying sort, pray for him.  If you’re not, wish him well.  If you can’t do that, judge not.

  • Ohio Bred Girl

    He’s going to hear all kinds of “yeah, right, sure, same old-same old.”  Others’ opinions will be as difficult to negotiate as the usual difficulties of a jockey’s life.  How about this? If you’re the praying sort, pray for him.  If you’re not, wish him well.  If you can’t do that, judge not.

  • Tina

    Normally I wouldn’t reply to a response as ridiculous and just plain stupid as yours, CO, but I can’t help myself. Are you kidding me, lecturing anybody about ‘broad sweeping mis placed (sic) generalizations’? That’s exactly what you did when you categorized Arroyo as ‘another felon’. You must know that, right? Or are you simply too impressed with yourself to get that?

    YOU get THIS: if a person commits a crime and gets caught he serves a penalty, depending on the severity of his crime. After he has served that punishment he has satisfied his debt to society and is free to go about providing for himself and his family. I’m not sure of the ‘standing in society’ of which you speak – did Martha Stewart or Nelson Bunker Hunt suffer that when they were found to have done wrong? I don’t think so. And one would be hardpressed to find anybody in racing who thinks the sport carries a higher social standing than the general populace.

    Here’s a suggestion Observer. Why don’t you keep your mean, broad and general statements to yourself, along with the ridiculous reasoning you use to support said statements. Then perhaps the sport of racing will enjoy a little bit more class than it normally does.

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    AMEN!!!…ty…

  • Peyton Lasiter

    anyone remeber when he beat a horse that broke down?

    • Peyton Lasiter

      I apologize. It was not him. Apology to him and everyone on this site. Sorry.

  • Peyton Lasiter

    anyone remeber when he beat a horse that broke down?

  • Peyton Lasiter

    I apologize. It was not him. Apology to him and everyone on this site. Sorry.

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