Walter Malasquez, Good Magic's exercise rider, is a newbie to the Triple Crown scene. When he went to the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Good Magic, the eventual runner-up to Justify, he had never been to Churchill Downs with a Derby starter. Now the Peruvian native finds himself in the same position as the Preakness (G1) approaches, and he's very moved to find himself in this spot.
“First Kentucky Derby with Good Magic and now first Preakness,” the soft-spoken Malasquez said Tuesday morning after he and Good Magic took their first spin around the Pimlico surface. “It's exciting. It's a blessing to get on good horses. I'm really lucky to be here.”
Malasquez, 31, is no stranger to partnering with some very classy horses. He has worked for two-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown for nearly six years, before that for Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin, and was the regular pilot of the Brown-trained Lady Eli, a Breeders' Cup winner and Eclipse Award champion, who was officially retired this past January.
Malasquez was part of the support team that helped nurse Lady Eli back to health when she suffered from laminitis in both front hooves after stepping on a nail on the backstretch at Belmont Park. Not only was the filly's career in danger, so too was her life, as laminitis is often a life-ending disease.
Because of what she went through and her remarkable comeback to the races, Lady Eli was beloved in both the Brown barn and by racing fans worldwide. When Malasquez was in Louisville with Good Magic, he paid Lady Eli a visit at Hill 'n' Dale Farms in nearby Lexington. She was bred to War Front earlier this year.
While Lady Eli's story warms the cockles of the hearts of many, she is anything but warm and fuzzy in demeanor. She had a orange traffic cone ominously placed outside of her stall in the Brown barn, warning visitors to give the bay filly, who wouldn't think twice about sinking her teeth in someone's arm, a wide berth.
Malasquez said nothing has changed since her retirement.
“She's still mean,” Malasquez said with a smile that suggested he would be disappointed if she was anything but surly. “She still tried to bite me. I fed her candies. For five seconds, she let me touch her. She still remembered me, I think. She seemed the same; nothing changed with her.”
Malasquez, a father to an 11-month year old, Walter Jr., with his girlfriend who is also an exercise rider for Brown, said despite Lady Eli's cantankerous ways, he acutely feels her absence at the racetrack.
“Oh, I'm missing her a lot,” he said. “For me, she's one of the best horses I ever rode, and I ride plenty of good horses for Chad.”
Good Magic, last year's Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old colt for e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables, has certainly helped ease the pain of missing Lady Eli for Malasquez, who said he expects big things from his new “big horse” on Saturday.
“I was surprised when the horse came out of the Derby like that,” said Malasquez, who has been getting on Good Magic since he was a 2-year-old. “For me, he looks the same. Nothing changed. He came out of the [Derby] like the same horse. Like he didn't race.”
Although definitely curious in nature, as evidenced by his bright-eyed inquisitiveness in the face of cameras, Good Magic appears unruffled as he goes about his morning routine on the track and in the barn.
“I spent plenty of time on him when he was a baby,” Malasquez said. “He's always been quiet and kind. Nothing changes. [But] he's a little more focused now, like he knows what he has to do.”
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