While trainers Jose Meza and Efren Loza, Jr. are fresh on the scene at Calder Casino & Race Course, they are no strangers to Thoroughbred racing.
Meza’s name has graced the program only a few times since making his career training debut toward the end of the Calder meet, while Loza made his U.S. training debut just this weekend. They are already showing signs of being a big presence at Calder.
Meza, 43, has 14 horses stabled at Calder for owners Dr. K. K. Jayaraman and Dr. Vilasini D. Jayaraman, half of which are 2-year-olds. One of their promising 2-year-olds, who is expected to make his career debut on Festival Preview day on September 14, is Mysterious Circle.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that the Jayaraman’s have given me, giving me the horses and trusting me with them,” said Meza. “It’s exciting to be able to work with a program like this. They have a lot of good horses, and we have a really good 2-year-old that I think is going to be pretty special. Hopefully we do half as well as Summer Bird did,” Meza said.
The Jayaraman’s gained national recognition in 2009 when Summer Bird captured the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, at Belmont Park. The 3-year-old went on to win back-to-back Grade 1 races in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Due to his successes, he was later awarded with the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male.
Prior to working for the Jayaraman’s, Meza worked on Thoroughbred farms for about eight years, first with Adena Springs and then as the farm manager at the Scanlon Training Center near Ocala.
“I like working with the 2-year-olds, developing them, and bringing them up from just breaking them,” said Meza. “I was actually prepping them for the 2-year-old in training sales. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
The California native’s background working with Thoroughbreds extends way past his years on the Thoroughbred farms. Meza had his assistant trainer’s license under Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and saddled horses for him. While with the Lukas team, Meza came to Florida in 1999 for the Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park. They celebrated two Breeders’ Cup victories that season – the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic with the 3-year-old Cat Thief and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with the 2-year-old Cash Run. Before working for Lukas, Meza ran the shedrow for multiple graded stakes winning trainer Randy Bradshaw, who also served as an assistant to Lukas prior to becoming a head trainer.
“Just watching people like Randy Bradshaw and Wayne Lukas and how they run their barn was a great experience for me,” said Meza. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. I learned a lot from working with Randy and Wayne.”
While Meza studied under Lukas and Bradshaw, Loza learned from his father, longtime trainer Efran Loza.
The elder Loza was based in Mexico for his training career that spanned more than 40 years. During that time, he won more than 4,000 races and won numerous stakes races with award-winning horses.
“I started with horses when I was born. I had always been in the barn with my father,” said Loza. “I always wanted to be a trainer like my father. He was my example, and I want to do the same things.”
The younger Loza, who is from Mexico, earned more than 500 victories, including multiple stakes victories, during his time training outside of the U.S.
One of those training victories came in 2006, when Loza became the youngest trainer to win a race in the Clasico del Caribe, when he was victorious with Walking Proud in the sprint category. The following year, his father won a race in the mare category in the Clasico Internacional del Caribe with That’s Life.
Although his father did not venture to the United States during his training career, Loza always desired to one day train in the United States.
“I dreamt that someday maybe I would be here,” said Loza. “I never imagined the opportunity would arise very early in my career, when I am only 29 years old,” Loza said. “It is good for me because I am planning to stay here for a long time.”
Loza has 20 horses stabled at Calder, including the horses for the ownership of St. George Stable, LLC and horses that he himself owns. He spent the past year and a half at Palm Beach Downs breaking babies for St. George Stable, LLC. The ownership recently transferred the horses in training to Loza, after having been stabled with trainers Eddie Plesa, Jr. and Wesley Ward.
“This year I will train the horses that I sent to other trainers, I picked up horses, and with the new horses that I broke this year, I start to work with all of the stable,” said Loza. “I worked about seven years with the stable in Mexico. It’s a big stable in Mexico and it has some horses here in America, and (the owner) gave me the opportunity to train all of his horses.”
A few of the horses that broke for St. George Stable ran at Calder earlier this year and are now under Loza’s care at Calder. While racing for Plesa, Felixia broke her maiden at Calder by 1-length in a 6-furlong maiden special weight race on May 2. Her most recent race came on September 6 at Calder for Loza’s training debut. Ecabroni ran sixth at Calder on May 23 in a 7-furlong allowance optional claiming race and most recently scored a 7-furlong allowance optional claiming victory by 3 lengths at Gulfstream for his second career victory. Fantasmagorico finished tenth in his debut at Calder on May 25 in a 1-mile turf maiden special weight race, then came back to just miss victory and settle for second to now-stakes winner Grand Tito on June 22 in a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden special weight race. Loza also has numerous 2-year-olds that are scheduled to race later on during the Tropical meet.
With their experience and the support they have behind them, Meza and Loza, Jr. are on track to earn their first career training victories at Calder very soon.