Jockey Carol Cedeno made headlines last week when she set a Delaware Park record with seven winners on a ten-race card. For those who follow the Mid-Atlantic circuit closely, the only surprise is that it didn't happen sooner.
Cedeno, who began riding in the United States in 2007, won the jockey title at her Delaware Park base in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and came just three wins short of picking it up again last year. She's currently the leading jockey for the meeting that ends Oct. 20.
While Cedeno enjoys her success, she isn't one of those riders constantly counting her wins, bowling for the top of the standings with singular focus. She's a rider who comes to work every day for the love of being in the saddle. And she just happens to be exceptionally good at it.
“I just do my job. If I win, I'm happy; if not, I tried,” she said. “I see people get mad because they didn't win. When I started the meet, I didn't win a race for the first week. I started winning almost two weeks after it started. But I don't mind.”
Cedeno got her start in Puerto Rico's riding school, which she attended almost on a whim, having very limited experience with horses at that point. During the first week, the school played a video depicting some of the most dangerous falls captured on film as a way of weeding out students who would be too intimidated by fear to continue. Some people dropped out after that. Cedeno kept coming back.
She moved to the United States a few months after graduating the jockey school at the age of 18 because she knew it was an uphill climb for female riders there. She started at Parx in 2007 with a splash, winning with 12 percent of her mounts and finishing in the money 42 percent of the time.
“I just come to try. Because in Puerto Rico, it's much harder for the girls,” she said. “[The trainers] don't help you over there very much. Even if you look good and do everything right, they don't care.
“It's not easy [for female riders here], but if you work hard and you ride good, everybody helps you. In this area, there are a lot of girls riding. I ride for a couple owners and a couple trainers who only ride girls. They don't want guys. I don't know why.”
Cedeno's days are long. She works seven or eight horses each morning in addition to riding the race card, and she'll commute from one track to another in the middle of the afternoon if she has enough work to justify the time. She has learned how many races she can ride at Delaware before she has to hit the road to Parx. It's not easy, but she prides herself in her work ethic.
Like many riders, Cedeno is also determined to keep going despite the injuries that plague jockeys. After a recent fall, she took a trip to the hospital for an MRI, which revealed she had actually fractured a vertebrae in another fall in Pennsylvania several weeks earlier – and kept riding.
“I felt pain for a long time but I wanted to keep riding because I was fighting on the standings,” she said. “I didn't want to go to the hospital.”
One of Cedeno's advantages as a rider is her intuitive, quiet way with horses. There are some riders who seem to have a calming aura about them which puts tense horses at ease and encourages stubborn ones to bend their wills. Cedeno smiles shyly when asked if she is one of these rare people.
“Maybe,” she says. She has noticed she has better luck with difficult horses than other riders do. Her favorite mount of all time is a gelding who ran away with every rider the trainer tried on him until Cedeno. After that, she was the horse's official rider for every workout. It wasn't that she did anything differently, she insists; the horse just never tried anything with her.
“I really like the horses,” she said. “I don't know what I've got, but people will tell me, 'That horse is bad.' And he'll be good with me. I don't fight with them, and they're good for me.”
When she's not soothing horses, Cedeno is soothing children. She has two, ages nine and six, with ex-husband Angel Serpa. It's not easy working her hours and managing the kids' schedules, but luckily Cedeno's parents live with her and her mother helps get the children to and from school.
“If I didn't have her, I don't think I could make it work,” Cedeno said.
So far, the kids don't seem to feel the call of the racetrack. When Cedeno's parents want to watch her ride, it takes some convincing to get the kids to come along. She doesn't see them dreaming of becoming jockeys – and she's more than ok with that.
Cedeno had both her kids after she started riding. She was surprised how quickly she got fit again after each of them. Weight has never been a serious struggle for Cedeno, and she started dropping pounds soon after she began working horses again.
“I finished my bug and like one month later I got pregnant and I quit, almost for two years. Then I came back for a little bit. When I came back after the first kid, I just came back because I liked riding and I wanted to gallop horses in the mornings. After I had my second kid, I started working hard to ride as a jockey,” she said. “A lot of people, when I had the second one, they told me, 'You're not going to be a jockey again.' I always say, 'You're going to see. I'll be back.'”
Cedeno admits becoming a parent has changed her perspective on the track. Before, she was more eager to travel farther from her home base and work up to stakes level horses. Now, she wants to remain successful in the Delaware/Pennsylvania area and provide a stable income for her family.
“Right now, I just want to do well and make money for my kids. I can't move them everywhere. I just want to stay in one place. Before I'd go everywhere, but now I can't, because they're in school,” she said. “If I'm doing good, I'm happy.“
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