Horse racing fever set in at a young age in Carlos Cepeda and provided the growing desire to work in multiple aspects of the Thoroughbred industry. The trail on which he set forth eventually led him to Calder Casino & Race Course, where he has based himself as a successful owner and trainer, accomplishing his goals after receiving a well-rounded education in the horse racing world.
Cepeda was hooked on horse racing from the get-go, growing up attending the races at Hipódromo Presidente Remon in his native Panama.
“I was crazy as a kid going over there just watching the races and sneaking into the winner’s circle. I was like, ‘I’m taking this picture,’” said Cepeda. “In Panama I always went to the track with my dad. I loved everything to do with horse racing and I wanted to be a jockey, but they told me ‘No, you’re not even close to being built that way,’ so I said, ‘Okay, fine.’ I settled.”
Cepeda eventually took his first job as a hotwalker at Belmont Park in New York while on summer break from high school. Working for trainer Bill Mott, Cepeda had the privilege of hotwalking Cigar, who had a Hall of Fame career winning numerous stakes races in multiple countries and earning Eclipse Award honors. All of the publicity surrounding the horse excited Cepeda even more about horse racing and involve himself further in the industry.
“I liked the whole atmosphere, the cameras, all of the attention about that horse,” said Cepeda. “It was a great experience for me, so from there I worked my way up to riding horses.”
Cepeda then spent 14 years working as an exercise rider for multiple trainers in New York, including Flint “Scotty” Schulhofer, William Badgett, Jr., and Allen Jerkens, with numerous stakes-winning horses. In addition to learning different styles of riding and conditioning horses from the trainers he worked for, Cepeda also received advice from three of his uncles who were jockeys in Panama and New York.
The success that Cepeda had while exercise riding led him to strive to achieve new goals in the industry.
“It was like a big chemistry that I had with the horses,” said Cepeda. “I was like ‘You know what? I want to be able to own a horse and I want to be able to train the horse, so I set that as one of my priorities later on in life. I was like, you know, when the time is right, I will get the chance to do it.”
Once the new goals were set in Cepeda’s mind, the next step was moving to Ocala, where he could gain knowledge about horse development prior to the time the horses first set foot on the racetrack.
“I went back to what I should have done in the first place - go to the farm and learn how to ride,” said Cepeda. “I wanted to experience the whole process of how the yearlings are born, how they break yearlings, the whole nine yards.”
Cepeda also worked the sales on James Crupi’s New Castle Farm, where among others he prepared an Indian Charlie colt who went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and an Eclipse Award – Uncle Mo.
“I was getting on this horse, and I told Mr. Crupi ‘I think this is a good horse. He’s very talented,’” said Cepeda. “I said ‘The Indian Charlie colt has potential.’ It was another experience to know that now I could pick up prospects even when they are really, really young.”
Cepeda’s background and industry knowledge allowed him to smoothly transition into being a successful owner and trainer as he headed to South Florida after two seasons in Ocala, basing himself at Calder.
“Fortunately for me, my first-time-out as an owner, I got the first win, and that was very exciting,” said Cepeda. “That was amazing. And then I did it also first time as a trainer. I felt blessed.”
Since 2013 as an owner, Cepeda’s horses have won five times from 38 starts, finishing in-the-money 21 times. In May of this year, Cepeda started his training career and has accumulated two wins from 10 starts, finishing in-the-money 50 percent of the time. His focus has been on claiming horses that he believes will best fit his stable.
Cepeda presently maintains a small outfit of three horses. With a small stable, he is able to be more hands-on and involved with the horses, which is what he loves. He takes them out in the mornings to make sure they are ready to run and keeping fit, and even gets on the horses every once in a while. He also takes the afternoons to groom and graze his horses to monitor their behavior while giving the grooms the afternoons off.
“They tell you when they’re really ready,” said Cepeda. “As a trainer and an owner I think that it’s important to have that chemistry with the horses, let them know that we are teammates; we all work together to accomplish one goal of winning races. If they’re happy and they’re sound and if they win and they perform good, then we’re all happy.”