Belmont Park's leading apprentice jockey Eric Cancel has steadily gained traction since joining the New York Racing Association circuit this spring and, with 54 career victories, the five-pound “bug boy” will look to keep his recent momentum going when he moves his tack upstate to ride his first meet at Saratoga Race Course.
“It'll be a new experience,” said Cancel. “I know it's going to be a really tough meet for me being a bug boy – it's where all the high class trainers and riders go – but I'm going for it. I want to take it to the next level.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Cancel grew up around the race track. His parents, Efran Cancel and Gezzela Algarin, are both former jockeys and Cancel couldn't imagine anything else he would rather do.
“I don't think I would like to do anything else,” he said. “This is what gives me life. I love horses. I love being around them all the time.”
Cancel, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on August 8, attended jockey school in Puerto Rico and won his first professional race at Camarero Race Park in January. His mother had been a jockey school classmate of Hall of Famer John Velazquez and when Cancel decided to move to the United States, Velazquez helped the young rider get in touch with his own agent and fellow Hall of Fame jockey, Angel Cordero, Jr.
Cancel kicked off his North American career at Gulfstream Park this winter, winning his first U.S. race on March 8 and, after picking up a few more wins to close out the meet, joined the jockey colony at Aqueduct Racetrack in early April. His first big stakes race came soon after, when on April 4, Cancel guided 59-1 Money'soncharlotte to a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Gazelle for Kelly Breen.
Currently, Cancel is tied with Velazquez for fifth place in the overall Belmont jockey standings with 35 wins and is the 11th leading money earner for the 2015 spring/summer meet with $1,702,856. He credits Cordero and Velazquez with much of his on-the-job development.
“They help me a lot,” said Cancel, who plans to remain on the NYRA circuit for the foreseeable future, riding at Belmont this fall before spending the winter at Aqueduct. “They try to get the best out of me and I thank God for that. Sometimes they'll get mad at me because they'll tell me something and I still do it wrong. But they keep going and going with me until I get it right. I think that's the type of influence that you need from someone to make you better. Thanks to them, little by little, I'm getting there.”
As one of the top apprentices in the nation, Cancel is already eyeing a particular end-of-the-year honor: the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey.
“Winning the Eclipse Award as a bug boy is my biggest goal right now because you've got to work hard every moment of your life and, as a bug boy, you've got to work even harder because that's how you develop your talent,” he said.
In the more immediate future, Cancel has set his sights on “at least 10 or 15” wins during his first summer at the renowned Saratoga.
“I want to win as many as I can and ride as good as I can,” he said. “Just keep trying to get there.”
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