A year ago, jockey Declan Cannon was working on getting a toe-hold in Kentucky and indeed America, his career picking up steam at Ellis Park. On Saturday, the 30-year-old Cannon shipped out of town to win on his breakthrough horse as Dona Bruja captured Arlington Park's Grade 3 Modesty.
Dona Bruja, a star in her native Argentina now trained by Keeneland-based Ignacio Correas, is 2 for 2 in the United States — both races with Cannon in the saddle. They teamed to win Churchill Downs' Grade 3 Mint Julep, which gave the jockey his first graded victory in America. Next stop will be Arlington's Grade 1 Beverly D, where a victory would really propel Cannon into the spotlight.
“They're the kind of fillies you need to be getting on to get you noticed,” Cannon said Sunday at Ellis Park. “Good horses make good jockeys, and she is very good…. She gave me goose bumps turning for home. She's fun to ride — a jockey's dream.”
In fact, Dona Bruja is kind of like Cannon, trying to prove themselves in the United States. “Exactly,” the jockey said. “We're both going the right direction, and doing things right, so that's important. It's what we get up early in the morning for: to try to find horses like this. It's what all the work is for.
“Good horses really get you noticed on the bigger stage, Saratoga and places like that. Del Mar, the Breeders' Cup, those are the kinds of horses that take you places. I'm enjoying it for now to see where she takes me.”
Dona Bruja won eight of 10 starts in Argentina, with two seconds. In the Modesty, she defeated the classy Time and Motion. “Time and Motion is a solid Grade 1 filly,” Cannon said. “I think (Dona Bruja) deserves her chance in the Beverly D. I wouldn't swap her for anyone else in the race, or whoever might be coming.”
Cannon started riding for Correas in Tampa this past winter. “He's a very good trainer, does a good job,” he said. “He lets me ride horses the way I want to ride them — with confidence. He leaves it up to me. We have a good relationship, so that works well. It's important to have a good understanding with your jockey.”
Cannon didn't have much time to celebrate. He and fellow rider James Graham drove back from northwestern Chicago through the night, arriving at 4:30 a.m. “What do you call it? Bread and butter,” he said with a laugh. “Today is another day — back to work.”
And that's fine. Cannon, who now has ridden at every track in the state in completing his first year, says he loves riding in Kentucky and at Ellis.
“It's very laid-back. People take it serious, but people seem to enjoy themselves more here,” he said. “Even the jockeys. There's a good vibe here. I think that's important. Like last weekend, 15 of us all went out to dinner together, a whole lot of us and we got a big table. We never get a chance to do that at Churchill, where we're all next day, next day, busy. We don't ever get together like that.
“It's good here. The crowd, you can see they really enjoy it.”
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