Tuesday, 24 May 2022 18:48

Derby winner Malvaez enjoying good start to season and being close to family

Malvaez in post parade aboard Real Grace at last year's Canadian Derby Malvaez in post parade aboard Real Grace at last year's Canadian Derby Julie Brewster/HRA

Edmonton-born jockey Mauricio Malvaez didn’t know which direction to turn. His dad, Marcos, won almost 500 races in his career as a jockey. But his son, Mauricio, was more interested in the ‘sweet science’ - boxing.

Mauricio was good at boxing. Very good. He won silver at the Nationals in the spring of 2015 fighting in the 52kg weight class in Cornwall, Ontario. Then, in the fall of that year, he won silver again at the Olympic qualifier in Montreal.

But then something changed. “I was a pretty good boxer. I came close to winning the Olympic qualifier. But not close enough,” said Mauricio, 25. It could have gone either way.”

“I didn’t do much boxing after the Olympic qualifier and I ended up going back to the track. Northlands Park was only a couple blocks away from where I grew up. Being a jockey wasn’t the original plan. It wasn’t a life-long dream. I thought I was going to be too big to be a jockey. And, being a jockey is a dangerous undertaking,” said Mauricio, who was only nine-years-old when he started going to the track cleaning tack for trainer Ron Grieves. I was so small then that I couldn’t even reach the hooks to hang the tack on.”

From there, Mauricio - still boxing - went on to be a groom when he was 15 and then galloping horses when he was 19. In 2018 he rode in his first race - a charity event to raise money for prostate cancer awareness at Calgary’s Century Downs. Mauricio finished fourth. He was hooked.

“I loved the rush and I wanted to continue riding. I gave up boxing and went with horse racing. Boxing laid the foundation for my hard work and discipline around the track.”

In 2019 he rode in 21 races but never won a single race. But his last ride of 2019 gave him hope.

“I finished second by a nose on a 30-1 long shot, Maria’s Magic, a horse his dad trained. The winner, Awesome Hit was the heavy 1-2 favourite. That motivated me for the next season. Knowing I could come so close to winning, I knew that it was possible.”

It was more than possible. Mauricio won 16 races in 2020 which was the most by any apprentice rider in Canada for which he was rewarded with a Sovereign Award. One of his wins was aboard a more than 50-1 longshot named Fairy Barb. Fairy Barb paid $111.60 to win. A $2 exactor paid $594.10. A $1 superfecta returned $9,736.

Moreover, Mauricio won the Canadian Derby that year at Century Mile aboard 18-1 outsider Real Grace. “It’s a miracle,” Mauricio said at the time. “It’s a miracle I got to ride in the Derby. It’s a miracle that I won. If you told me (in 2019) that I would even ride in the Canadian Derby let alone win it I would have said you were crazy. That’s why I love this sport so much: anything can happen.”

“I’m just so happy that I could win this race for Shelley,” he said of Real Grace’s trainer, Shelley Brown, who was battling cancer. “Shelley is a strong person fighting every day. I always keep her in my prayers. I was grateful she gave me the opportunity to ride in the Derby. I know that it is rare for an apprentice to even ride in the Derby, let alone win the Derby. So yeah, it was a shock to me. I was so happy, you know. Filled with emotion.”

At the end of 2020 Mauricio went to Toronto planning on riding on the big stage of Woodbine. “I had five mounts lined up. But the day I was supposed to ride I got the notification that I tested positive for Covid and I never got the chance to ride there. It was bad luck and it came on a Friday the 13th.”

But Mauricio would get another chance. Last fall, after riding in Alberta, he again went to Toronto. This time there were no glitches. He won nine races in two months. One of the wins was in a maiden allowance race which had a purse of $126,800 - higher than even the $100,000 Canadian Derby. He went wire-to-wire. Just as he did in the Derby.

“I went to Toronto to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. It was new and a lot tougher out there. I did pretty good. I was going to stay in Toronto this spring. But I got homesick and I came back to Alberta. I wanted to spent more time with my parents, Marcos and Maria, my older brother Marcos Jr. and my friends,” said Mauricio, who is having a solid season with four wins from 22 mounts.”

“I lost some momentum early in the year because most people thought I was going to ride in Ontario again. When I came back to Alberta I had to ride whatever I could get. Considering all that it’s been pretty good so far this year,” said Mauricio who is named on Ghostly Runner in Friday night’s first stakes race of the season, the Alberta-Sired Debutante. “Maybe I’ll go back to Toronto again later this fall.”

Mauricio is a fighter turned jockey but there’s still a lot of fight in him. “He’s getting stronger,” said Grieves, who has given him two horses that have won this year.

Mauricio’s other wins came for Dee Walper and Dale Saunders. “He finishes his races very well and that’s the best asset a jockey can have,” said Grieves. “And he’s a real good guy. That’s an important asset too.”

Mauricio said he feels stronger this year too. “And sharper. I just want to thank everyone that has helped me. You know the old saying: it takes a village to raise a child. It’s been nice riding here in my hometown in front of my family and friends. I grew up at the track so almost all of the trainers know me. I’m grateful how my career has gone so far.”

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Read 1609 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 May 2022 18:55