Whether young or old, Thoroughbred jockeys have two loves that guide them through life and serves as a support for their families – the love of horses and the love of riding. While riding in the afternoons provides opportunities for added income, riding in the mornings as an exercise rider provides a more consistent income and makes for the livelihoods of many of the riders at Calder.
Ray Ganpath, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, is the main rider during morning training for trainer Rohan Crichton. On March 28, Ganpath had the opportunity with Crichton’s Rasta Rant to achieve a locational win missing on his resume – a win at Calder. Ganpath’s victory marked just the first time he has won at Calder in a career spanning 15 years in the United States and more than 20 years overall including the time he rode in his native country at Santa Rosa Park.
“Calder was always a black hat for me,” said Ganpath. “Every year we used to come to Florida for the winter with Allen Jerkens, I had my fair share of riding live horses at Calder, but I’ve never won a race until this time. This is my first win actually in Calder, so hopefully the black hat is gone.”
The graded stakes winning rider has only ridden in races four times so far this year, focusing on his work in the Crichton barn. When Ganpath worked for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens in the early 2000s on the New York and Florida circuits, he also combined constant work in the mornings for Jerkens with mounts in the afternoons. From there he ventured to Mountaineer, where he rode on a steady basis for various trainers as a top 10 jockey in the standings. He returned to Calder in 2012.
“I’m not as young as I used to be, so my family and I decided to move to Florida. Then both tracks decided to run year-round, so I said, ‘You know what? I don’t mind finding that one outfit I can just work and ride races,’ said Ganpath. “It’s a passion that you have, and once you get hooked on it, that’s it.”
Another jockey who is working steadily for a trainer in the morning while occasionally grabbing a ride in the afternoons is Eddie Perez Haller, who works for trainer Kathleen O’Connell. He, too, settled in Florida and took a job as a steady rider in the mornings to support his family.
“I love riding in races,” said Perez. “The issue is that if you don’t win, you don’t earn money. When you have kids, you can’t miss bringing food to the house, and that’s why you elect for a steady paycheck than to try to achieve the dream.”
Perez has been a jockey for more than 15 years, mostly in Uruguay, and was a top 10 jockey there. He hopes to continue to ride in races while maintaining his work in the mornings.
“Breezing, racing, that is where you feel the adrenaline, the beauty of the races, the velocity,” said Perez. “Racing is not something that I do for the money; it is something that I love, that fascinates me. I love riding.”
Juan Gauche, an exercise rider for Calder Hall of Fame trainer Bill White, first took out his jockey license in 1979 at Calder, won his first race in the Virgin Islands, and rode for many years in Puerto Rico. He began exercise riding for trainer Jimmy Jerkens in New York in the late 2000s. In 2010, after working for Jerkens, he rode in a few races because he missed the rush that comes when riding in a race.
“I rode races not because I was going to compete with the young guys, but because I wanted to return to the feeling you get riding in races,” said Gauche. “At 53 years old, I returned and I did it, and for me it was as if it were the first time.”
While working as an exercise rider at Calder, Gauche has been able to help up-and-coming riders learn the ropes. One of the young jockeys whom Gauche has worked with while working for White is apprentice Wilnell Mercado, who just won his first career race in his first time out at Calder on March 22. Mercado has worked in the mornings as an exercise rider for White for more than two years.
“The experience that I obtained as a jockey helps me to teach the young guys some tricks, because it’s not just riding the horse,” said Gauche. “I continue working with the horses here at Calder and I won’t move anywhere, because I think the best place now in Florida for me to work is Calder. I like it here. I love to gallop horses, and while I have the strength, I will continue galloping. When I see that I can’t, I’ll retire. Before retiring, I am thinking of riding a race one more time.”
One former jockey who is focused strictly on riding in the mornings is Brian Lynch. He has been working in the mornings for trainer Monte Brinsley for about four years since moving to Florida full-time.
“I used to travel around,” said Lynch. “I used to go to Canada, to the New York circuit, then I got a house here and so I wanted to stay in one place - that’s how I wound up here. It’s great not having to move. I love it. Riding horses is a nice thing to do.”
Lynch traveled the world as a jockey and an exercise rider, with years in Ireland, Australia, and the United States, as well as Canada and Dubai. After riding as an apprentice in Ireland, he became a claiming professional where he rode jumps as a bug rider. After coming back from an injury, Lynch said it was harder for him to obtain mounts in races, so he took a job opportunity in Australia before coming to the United States for the first time in 1993. He has continued to ride horses in the morning to this day.
“For me it’s a very easy job,” said Lynch. “I like it, and it gives me time to do other stuff. I am able to mind my daughter a lot more and spend more time with her. It’s almost a part-time job, really, because you’re finished at 9 o’clock.”
Ganpath, Perez, Gauche, and Lynch all plan on working with horses for the foreseeable future, supporting their families and passion for riding horses at the same time.