“There’s no doubt [Joel Rosario’s] the best jockey in the U.S. today. He’s one of those riders that only comes along every 25 years. He’s so tremendously strong and has so much in rhythm with the horse; it’s almost like an instinct.”
That quote was uttered by jockey agent Ron Anderson, a 40-year veteran of the industry who’s worked with many great riders, including Gary Stevens. But believe it or not, being a jockey was not Rosario’s lifelong dream.
“I like to be a jockey. But I love baseball,” he told CNN in a 2013 interview. “Growing up I played a lot of baseball. But I was small and didn’t weigh much. My family thought maybe I could be a jockey, so when I was 12 my half-brother took me to a jockey school.”
That was a wise decision, as the Dominican-born Rosario took leading rider honors in his native country four times between 2000 and 2006 before he decided to move to the United States. Rosario began riding at the Northern California circuits such as Fairplex, Golden Gate and Bay Meadows (where he won his first stakes race) before opting to take on the more challenging Southern California tracks like Del Mar, Hollywood, and Santa Anita. It wasn’t too long before he started attracting attention.
“He’s a really talented rider,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said of Rosario in a 2013 interview with USA Today. “When you throw him on a horse, his IQ goes up 100 points.”
He continued, “I think he feels the same pressure running a $10,000 claimer or a stakes race. He just doesn’t get emotional.”
Rosario’s ambition eventually led him to tackle the NYRA circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga) and Gulfstream in more recent years, and he’s been incredibly successful as he’s ranked no worse than fifth in the nation in earnings since 2009.
Rosario has eight in-the-money finishes in the Triple Crown series, including wins in the 2013 Kentucky Derby aboard Orb, and the 2014 Belmont Stakes when he rode Tonalist to a narrow victory.
Rosario also has five career Breeders’ Cup wins to his credit; his first came in 2009 when he guided Dancing in Silks to a shocking victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (the win payout was $52.60), and his most recent occurred just last year aboard Wavell Avenue in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
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