Saturday, July 29, at Monmouth Park, jockey agent Jimmy Riccio “won” the day with his riders Joe Bravo and Jose Ortiz sweeping all six stakes races on the card, including the $1 million Haskell Invitational with Good Magic.
“We just were on the right horses that day,” said Riccio, 40. “It looked like a good day on paper, and the horses all ran to form. We just had great chances.”
Bravo kicked the day off early with a win in the third race, then took the Grade 3 Oceanport aboard Synchrony in the seventh. Ortiz was next, winning the G3 Monmouth Cup with Name Changer (a horse Riccio picked up for him at the last minute) and the G3 Matchmaker on Elysea's World. Bravo returned to win the G3 Molly Pitcher with Berned, and Ortiz took the final two stakes, the listed Wolf Hill with Imprimis and the Haskell with last year's juvenile champ.
In those same six stakes, Bravo also finished second once and was twice third.
Riccio's accomplishment at Monmouth is definitely a bright spot in his career, he said, though last year's Eclipse Award with Ortiz currently tops the list.
“That was just a dream come true, everything we'd been working for,” said Riccio. “I just thought, 'Wow, we made it,' and I shed a tear when he thanked me in his acceptance speech. It's something I'll never forget, but of course we want to do it over and over again!”
The relationship between Ortiz and Riccio has been growing for six years now, while Riccio has represented Bravo for a little over a year.
Looking back, Riccio considers a trio of jockeys he represented in the past to be responsible for first drawing the attention of the nation's top trainers. First, he had a wildly successful meet at the Meadowlands with Julien Pimentel when he was an apprentice, taking the leading rider title. Then, C.C. Lopez had some very solid years with Riccio at both Aqueduct and Monmouth Park, and finally, Riccio had the opportunity to represent Hall of Famer Edgar Prado for a year.
It was in November of 2012 that Riccio first heard that the young newcomer Jose Ortiz might be looking for a new agent. Riccio thought about talking to Ortiz, giving him his sales pitch, and the very next morning, Ortiz happened to drive up and park next to Riccio's car to watch morning workouts at the Belmont training track.
“I saw that he was a young up and coming guy, just like I was, and I thought he had some serious ability,” Riccio recalled. “I just told him how much I love this job, and that I thought I could help him build his business as he got older. I'd done well with a few guys he'd seen, but he said he wanted to talk to his older brother about it.”
Just half an hour later, Irad and Jose Ortiz called Riccio back and told him he had the job.
“We clicked from day one,” said Riccio. “We're really close friends now, he's just so fun to be around and his wife is just such a beautiful person.”
Of course, with Ortiz' increasing visibility over the past several years, Riccio has had to develop his skills as an agent to maintain important client relationships.
“It can be tough to juggle it all, and nobody likes to be told 'no,'” he said. “I just try to be loyal to the people who brought me here and to those with fast horses… It's not about winning every single race, its about building up those relationships with the top trainers and not jumping around the best horse each time.”
One of those people who started Riccio on his career to being a jockey agent was actually his father, a long-time Thoroughbred owner. The younger Riccio remembers anxiously awaiting the overnights from Saratoga at his father's fax machine, mentally preparing to handicap the races. Later on, his father suggested that Riccio take a summer job as a jockey agent at Saratoga in between terms at college; he later had to push Riccio to go back to college in the fall.
After graduation with a business degree, Riccio went straight for the racetrack. It was hard at first, getting his name out there, but over time he has built up his contacts and been able to his name and his business.
“You want them to know you, to remember you, so it really takes time,” he explained. “The more you do it, the more people you meet. My biggest strength is that I can get along with everybody, and I'm also fortunate that we get to ride a lot of races.”
This summer, both Bravo and Ortiz are based at Saratoga, so Riccio can usually be found on the rail in the mornings watching his riders work horses. Most of the industry's biggest names can be found doing the same thing, Riccio said, so it's a great time to reinforce old contacts and to make new ones.
“I always kid with the guys, that I feel like I'm working for my big brother [Bravo] and my little brother [Ortiz],” Riccio said. “I guess you could say I've got a pretty good boss.”
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