Ellis Park press release by Jennie Rees
HENDERSON, Ky. (Saturday, July 3, 2021) — Andrea Rodriguez had never even been to Ellis Park before, let alone ridden in a race. But the 23-year-old apprentice jockey wasted no time locating the winner’s circle.
Rodriguez rode 11-shot Artie’s Lady to a head victory over 14-1 Midnight Lewis in Saturday’s second race for $16,000 claimers in her only mount on the card.
Artie’s Lady paid $24.80 to win in taking his second start in a row, with Rodriguez guiding owner-trainer Mark Schwarm’s 3-year-old colt to a nose victory May 27 in a $16,000 maiden-claiming race at Indiana Grand.
It’s not surprising that Puerto Rico’s famed jockey school has produced a promising jockey. Some of the best jockeys in the world — think brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz who are so dominant today, Hall of Famer John Velazquez and the iconic Angel Cordero – are products of Escuela Vocacional Hipica Agustin Mercado Revero. What remains relatively rare are Hispanic female riders. Rodriguez said she was one of two women in her class of 16, though she said the numbers are starting to pick up. They can look to Puerto Rico product Carol Cedeno, who owns six riding titles at Delaware Park, for inspiration.
“We’re trying, we’re trying,” Rodriguez said with a laugh, referencing Puerto Rican girls who aspire to be jockeys. “Since I was a little kid, I loved horses. My father’s family is involved in the horse-racing industry, so I guess I got it.”
Rodriguez started riding in 2019 at Puerto Rico’s Hipódromo Camarero before moving on to Tampa and Monmouth Park, finishing the year with two wins out of 47 mounts. Deciding she needed more experience, she began working as an exercise rider for Kentucky-based trainer Ian Wilkes. Rodriguez resumed riding races full-time at Turfway Park, where she struggled but says she learned a lot.
“I knew I needed more time, I needed to learn more,” she said. “So I kept galloping. So when I thought I was ready — and Ian Wilkes thought I was ready – he sent me to the races. I had not a great meet at Turfway, but I learned a lot. When I started at Indiana, I’ve been doing very good, thanks to that.”
Extra time learning pays off
Rodriguez has 12 wins, with five seconds and nine thirds, out of 82 mounts at Indiana Grand, and 15 career victories overall. Her mounts currently get to carry seven pounds fewer than otherwise stipulated in the race conditions, with such apprentice allowances offered to encourage trainers to use inexperienced jockeys. For instance: as a 3-year-old ridden by a seven-pound apprentice, Artie’s Lady carried 111 pounds to 122 for Midnight Lewis, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, winner of 4,178 races.
“She’s done great,” Schwarm said. “She’s rode him twice for me and won both races. I think she has a lot of feel for a horse. She can feel what the horse needs from her, and she doesn’t give any more or any less. It seems to be working.”
Rodriguez said Artie’s Lady loves to fight.
“He loves to be head-to-head with another horse. So when I saw the No. 2 (Midnight Lewis) coming, I said, ‘This is mine.’ Because he will fight for it,” she said. “… I can’t describe it. It’s so amazing, especially when you know the horse you’re on and you have that connection with him. I just love being on horses.”
Rodriguez hopes to start riding regularly at Ellis Park (which races Friday-Sunday) in addition to Indiana (which runs Monday-Thursday).
“This is my first mount here, and I got a winner,” she said. “So I hope I get many more mounts here.”
What does she think of Ellis Park?
“I love it!” she said. “I got a winner the first time, so I love it so far.”