The Escuela Vocacional Hipica in Puerto Rico has produced a string of successful apprentice jockeys who have made a name for themselves on the Thoroughbred racing scene, and Arny Fontanez looks to add to the list of success stories.
The 21-year-old native of Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, earned his first career victory at Calder Casino & Race Course on February 21 in just his fourth career start as an apprentice jockey. He won the third race aboard Run Gia Run by 1 ¾ lengths for owner and trainer Charles Fontana.
“When I went ahead in first place and I saw that I was reaching the finish line, I felt happy and had a lot of emotions,” said Fontanez. “I passed the finish line and the first thing I did was thank God for the opportunity he gave me to have won.”
Becoming a jockey has been a dream of Fontanez’s since he was young.
“I love horses,” said Fontanez. “This is my passion. I grew up with horses, and it was a goal of mine for my future. I started to see if I could, and I am already achieving the goal I wanted to accomplish.”
After attending the jockey school in Puerto Rico, Fontanez spent about seven months working for trainer Chad Brown at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park, and Palm Meadows training center before returning to Puerto Rico. He came to Calder last month to begin working with jockey agent Pichi Garcia and start riding in the races.
“My brother, Tico Garcia, called me from Puerto Rico, he’s a jockey agent there, and he told me this kid has a lot of talent,” said Garcia.
With one win already under his belt, Fontanez hopes to add another achievement to his career in the near future.
“I would like to win an award like the Eclipse,” said Fontanez. “For this you have to work hard, dedicate yourself and win then you move ahead.”
Garcia believes that Fontanez’s attributes will allow him to win the prestigious award.
“He’s humble, he works hard, he gets up by himself. In one month I haven’t got a complaint about him,” said Garcia. “When you see a jockey like him, he can be perfect on the horse. I teach him and he learns. When I tell him something he listens. When you listen, you learn.”
Fontanez came out of the jockey school the year after it produced apprentices Edgard Zayas, Manuel Franco, and Victor Carrasco, who swept the top three Eclipse Award nominee finalists for 2013. Zayas rode at Calder during his apprenticeship and continues to ride at Calder as a journeyman. Watching his fellow countrymen’s success added encouragement for Fontanez to reach that distinction as well.
“I am a fan of them,” said Fontanez. “I spend time watching their races in order to learn. When I saw the three were nominated for the Eclipse Award, Victor Carrasco won the Eclipse Award and they were Boricua and left the year before me, this motivated me more to continue fighting to be able to be in a position like this, like them.”
Fontanez said he plans on staying at Calder for his apprenticeship and hopes to make a name for himself while at Calder.