Since riding in his last race in 2017 at Gulfstream Park, Juan Leyva has made a quick and highly successful transition from jockey to assistant trainer in Southern California.
“I call him 'The Phenom,'” said Leyva's boss, John Sadler, who “recruited” the native of Mexico City for his assistant's position. “He's going to be a really good trainer. We have a succession plan. When I retire, he's going to take over.”
The 34-year-old former jockey, who made a name for himself in South Florida as the regular rider of champion Musical Romance, has returned to Gulfstream Park with Team Accelerate for Saturday's $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1).
“It's really rewarding being a part of that kind of horse,” said Leyva, who has been aboard the 9-5 morning-line favorite in workouts along with his other responsibilities as Sadler's assistant. “It's pretty special.”
Leyva has had a long association with Accelerate's trainer John Sadler, who has been instrumental in both his riding career and his transition into training.
“I knew him when he was riding in California. I was the one who told him to get out of there and try a different colony. He made a good career here [in Florida],” Sadler said. “He beat me in the Breeders' Cup one year, so I make it hard on him all the time.”
Leyva, who rode 803 winners between 2000 and 2017, was aboard Musical Romance for her victory at Churchill Downs in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), in which she finished 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Sadler-trained runner-up Switch. He also was aboard the Bill Kaplan-trained Musical Romance for her wins in the 2011 Presque Isle Masters (G2), as well as the 2012 Princess Rooney (G2) and Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream.
Hronis Racing LLC's Accelerate has certainly made his transition to the training side of the business an exciting one.
“He's just an amazing animal, full of power and class. He's just a spectacular horse,” Leyva said. “Sometimes you just end up getting lucky. I got lucky ending up in the right barn and the right people around me. I have to thank Mr. (Kosta) Hronis and his wife (Stephanie) and brother, Pete, for allowing me to become part of the team. John recruited me. I couldn't be happier.”
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