No Change
Jockey Denis Araujo and No Change got up to win at Charles Town December 12. Photo by Coady Photography.

Like millions of people in the United States and worldwide, jockey Denis Araujo has found navigating life during the Covid-19 pandemic a challenge. Yet for the rider, based at Charles Town Races, those challenges haven’t been of the medical variety.

Araujo has escaped the pandemic virtually unscathed from a health perspective. But he was caught up in a legal battle involving his status in the country and was confined to riding horses in Middleburg for trainer Neil Morris while waiting for his attorney to clear up the matter for him. What began as a weeks-long mission turned into a six-month endeavor, but Araujo was finally cleared to return to racing in October.

“Right after the shutdown [in March] I broke a bone in my foot and that took a couple of weeks to take care of,” said Araujo, who initially honed his skills on the bigger ovals in his native Uruguay. “But then I heard that there was an issue with my visa, so I turned over the papers to my lawyer. I didn’t think it would take long, but it took almost six months. It was a little nerve-wracking because with those things, you just don’t know what could happen. But luckily it got straightened out, and I was able to start riding back.”

Before the initial COVID-19 induced shutdown in late March, Araujo had actually overhauled Arnaldo Bocachica as the track’s leading rider in wins by a narrow 46-43 margin.

But when racing resumed in May, Araujo was still out. His mornings were spent heading down to the Middleburg Training Center, where he galloped horses for prominent steeplechase trainer Neil Morris.

Araujo finally returned to Charles Town with two mounts October 29, and business was slow at first. But his business gradually returned as fall began to turn to winter.

On December 12 Araujo guided No Change to a determined victory in a one-turn maiden special weight event for West Virginia-bred two-year-olds for owner-breeder-trainer John McKee. No Change had been third in his career debut three weeks earlier with Araujo up, but this night, he saved ground through the early stages, found room on the far turn, and overhauled his stablemate, Entry Time (Wesley Ho) to graduate in 54.05.

“You know, Denis is a nice rider,” McKee said. “When he was out for a while, I started using Wesley and Reshawn [Latchman] and I wanted to stay loyal to them when the two-year-olds were racing. But I’ve got a couple of horses for Denis. He won with No Change and there are a couple more that have yet to run that he’s been on and he’ll get to ride. He’s patient and that comes from those years he rode on the big tracks. But he’s getting better riding on our smaller track up here.”

Trainer Ronney Brown has been one of Araujo’s biggest supporters, giving him a leg up on recent winner Ocean Lilly. More recently he put Araujo on She Figures for the $50,000 My Sister Pearl Stakes, named in honor of a Brown trainee. Though the duo finished fifth that night, Brown had plenty of positive to say about the rider.

“He’s a real nice guy and he works hard,” Brown said. “He seems to be able to put horses in the right position. He’s used to riding on the bigger tracks, but he’s developed a good sense for riding on the bullring. I think it says a lot about him that he was able to stay mentally and physically ready for a comeback. He’s definitely one of those guys that works hard at what he does.”

Trainer Ollie Figgins III has also been supportive of Araujo in his return, giving the jock a leg up on recent winner Lady Licious in a one-turn claiming event for fillies and mares. Figgins, best known for his work with Grade 1 winner Dance to Bristol, a talented Bowie-based distaffer whose career began at Charles Town, also commended Araujo for his demeanor and his work ethic.

“He’s a super nice guy and he works hard,” Figgins said. “He’s at the barns every morning. He had to sit out a few months when we came back but he’s been riding really well. I think he’s good at putting horses in good position early. He’s won a couple for me lately so I don’t have any problem putting him up on a horse.”