It’s hard to believe, but Miguel Mena’s career was almost derailed by alcohol addiction. Fortunately for the talented Peruvian jockey, he was able to get help and is now thriving at the upper echelon of the sport.
“I made mistakes,” Mena said in a 2010 interview with the Post-Star. “But I learned from my mistakes and I left everything in the past.”
Reactions to Mena’s problem within the sport varied greatly.
“I rode him a couple times…watched his work ethic at Churchill and it was very positive,” Hall-of-Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas told the Post-Star. “[But] it’s a competitive business and they have to understand it. And if they mess up their lives, there is someone who will take his place in a heartbeat.”
But trainer Eric Guillot was more willing to accept Mena’s apologies.
“That means more to me than the ones who make excuses,” he told the Post-Star. “That’s what I like about him.”
Guillot continued, “He’s definitely athletic, he’s definitely smart. He can get a horse to relax [and is] a strong, strong finisher. His mind’s right now, his work ethic’s great, so I’m going to give him a shot until he proves unworthy.”
Mena thanks his father, Jose, for his inspiration to become a jockey. Jose Mena was a jockey in Peru and his uncle Humberto was a trainer.
“I used to go to the racetrack all the time,” Miguel told Keeneland media. “I was watching my dad ride and I wanted to do what he was doing. I got the idea in my head when I was a kid that I’m going to be a jockey.”
After years of riding at second-tier tracks like Presque Isle, Ellis and Turfway (all of which he won the leading rider title at least once), Mena was able to establish himself and is now a fixture at Churchill Downs and the Fair Grounds.
He’s also made a splash at Saratoga before. He won his first career Grade I when he piloted Champagne D’Oro in the 2010 Test Stakes.
A year later, Mena would tally his second Grade I by upsetting the Stephen Foster Handicap with 36-1 Pool Play.
Mena was in the national spotlight for a while when he and International Star swept the Kentucky Derby prep series at the Fair Grounds. Sadly, International Star was forced to defect from the big race due to a foot problem. Mena still hasn’t won a Triple Crown event, but there’s plenty of time for the talented rider to accomplish that.
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