Wilnell Mercado has worked as an exercise rider for more than two years for Calder Hall of Fame trainer Bill White, and the time has now come for Mercado to ride in his first career race as an apprentice for White in the fifth race Saturday at Calder Casino & Race Course.
“It’s something that I have always liked since I was young,” said Mercado. “I decided to start riding in races now because I think that I have all of the qualities and the abilities to be able to achieve it.”
Mercado, 24, will be aboard Times Are Tough, a 4-year-old gelding who is owned by White Fox Farm, in a 5 ½-furlong claiming race. Times Are Tough is cutting back in distance and returning with a tag after finishing seventh in a 6-furlong optional claiming race and sixth in a 7-furlong allowance race. The career Calder runner has two career wins to his name, including a 6-furlong maiden claiming race win last September and a 6 ½-furlong claiming race win last December.
“Wilo’s actually had his certificate to ride for almost a year, so I’ve been encouraging him to get started,” said White. “He’s been with me for a couple years now, hasn’t missed a day, has been a key person in my barn, and we’re all really excited to see him ride his first race.”
Times Are Tough is one of the horses that Mercado takes out every morning for White. Mercado said that taking many horses to the gate and working the horses in the mornings consistently has allowed him to learn what he needs to know to be ready to ride in the races. This first-hand knowledge and daily work are a plus for White, who has high hopes for Mercado as he has been able to watch his development.
“What I like about Wilo is he is the type of rider who can handle tough horses, number one,” said White. “He is very good about communicating to me what he’s feeling with a horse - giving me an idea if a horse needs more training, less training, if a horse is improving, or maybe we need to back off of the horse. I count on Wilo a whole lot to communicate with me. I’m hoping that as a rider he will do the same with the trainers.”
Prior to working for White, the native of Aibonito, Puerto Rico, did attend one year of jockey school in Puerto Rico where he learned the basics of being an apprentice jockey. That, along with working White’s barn in combination with advice from fellow jockeys and support from his family has allowed Mercado to fully develop into being ready to make his apprentice debut. His support system, including wife, Emily, and daughters, Amelianys and Neilymar, are sure to be in the stands on Saturday to support Mercado in his debut.
“I think that is very important,” said Mercado. “They have always given me a hand and they have supported me.”
As for Mercado’s plans for his apprenticeship, he is taking everything one step at a time.
Mercado said, “My focus for the moment is to make my debut and try to do a good job, learn, and then make the decisions that are best for me.”
Times Are Tough and Mercado are slated to break from post position five for the fifth race on Saturday, which has an approximate post time of 3 p.m.