Exactly six months after seeing his Championship Meet end with a serious leg injury, jockey Edgard Zayas celebrated as the leading rider at Gulfstream Park's 2019 spring meet, which ended Sunday.
Zayas, who turned 26 June 27, completed the 54-day stand with 70 victories, 13 more than runner-up Emisael Jaramillo (57). The native of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico also led all jockeys in purse earnings with a bankroll of more than $2 million.
“It feels awesome, especially since coming back off the injury. It's been the most special one so far,” Zayas said. “To be able to come back and come back strong and win the meet is amazing. I was trying to grind for it and we did it. We made it. It's something to celebrate.”
Gulfstream's 2014 summer meet champion, Zayas had finished in the top four in each of the last four spring meets. He set the tone for 2019 by winning twice on opening day, April 4, including the second race aboard Buddy's Run for trainer Ralph Nicks – the jockey's first mount since sustaining a broken femur in his right leg in a Dec. 30 spill at Gulfstream.
Zayas registered 22 multi-win days during the spring meet, winning four races on a single card three times – April 28, May 16 and May 17. He won Sunday's Kodiak Island Stakes aboard promising 2-year-old Positively Awesome and the Liza Jane Stakes with 3-year-old filly Lovesick May 31.
Represented by agent Tito Fuentes, Zayas was a finalist for the 2013 Eclipse Award as leading apprentice and is closing in on 1,400 career wins.
“Especially a leg injury, I had to come back and prove to everyone that I was the same jockey as when I left, and even better this time,” Zayas said. “You just get more experience every time and keep riding hard and keep being thankful for getting support from all the owners and trainers. We look forward to just keep on going from here.”
Saffie Joseph Jr. earned the spring meet training title with 20 wins, five more than runners-up Ralph Nicks and Antonio Sano, who each won once Sunday. Joseph, 30, a third-generation horseman from Barbados, ranked third with more than $600,000 in purse earnings, trailing Kathleen O'Connell and Nicks.
“We're just blessed and thankful for all the owners who give us their support. We've got a hard-working team,” Joseph said. “Basically, to win titles you have to have numbers. We have the numbers and we have good horses and good owners. You need good horses and you need good owners supporting you
“We won at a good rate and the horses ran good for us. Midway through the meet we had a little bug in the barn but then things came back on. Everything went to plan,” he added. “The team's working really hard, the owners are giving us the breaks, we're getting good rides and good riders. It's all teamwork.”
One of Joseph's top horses at the meet was Shooting Star Thoroughbreds' exciting 2-year-old prospect Chance It, a Florida-bred son of Currency Swap that romped by 9 ¼ lengths in 1:03.95 for 5 ½ furlongs in his second career start, coming on Saturday's Summit of Speed program. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92, the highest of any juvenile, male or female, this year.
“He's special. The only bad day he ever had was his first day. We got him and were supposed to take him to the track and he was walking on his hind legs and being coltish. After that, he's been straightforward. He does everything with ease and makes everything look easy,” Joseph said. “First time he got beat, I was really disappointed. I don't really crank them up first time to win, but I thought he would overcome that. He got beat, but he got valuable experience and it carried over to the next race.
“[Saturday], he showed the kind of horse he is. He's a special horse,” he added. “We're here, and the Stallion Stakes series is a good series, so that's basically our goal at the moment. If we could go through that, that would be good. If we can get through that, maybe [we'll] take a shot at something bigger.”
Joseph said that 3-year-old Math Wizard, a horse he claimed out of an 18 ½-length win Jan. 31 at Gulfstream, exited his runner-up finish in the June 22 Ohio Derby (G2) in good shape and is currently training at Keeneland for an expected start in the Indiana Derby (G3) July 13.
“He came out of the Ohio Derby good. We're going to keep him at Keeneland because there's a bunch of different races out there. We're kind of leaning toward the Indiana Derby,” Joseph said. “The owner wants to go in the Indiana Derby and, if not, we'll see how he's doing. He's been a great claim. We were fortunate and blessed to get him.”
Mike Napoli, a World Series champion with the 2013 Boston Red Sox, finished as the spring meet's leading owner with 16 wins, while Arindel topped all owners with more than $438,000 in purse earnings.
Sunday's card featured mandatory payouts in the 20-cent Rainbow 6 ($5,120.16), 50-cent Late Pick 5 ($1,250.75) and $1 Super Hi-5 ($144.70).
All three wagers begin anew with the start of Gulfstream's 55-day summer meet Monday, July 1, running through Sunday, Sept. 29.
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