XAVIER PEREZ NEARING WINS MILESTONE
Maryland-based jockey Xavier Perez is closing in on his 1,000th career victory, not that the popular and personable rider needs a reminder.
“I’ve been counting,” Perez, 33, said. “I told my wife, ‘Look I’m getting close. It’s coming. It’s coming.’ She was like, ‘Don’t start thinking about it.’ So I said, ‘I’m superstitious and I’m going to count it because I’ve been counting since I had 50 left and it’s been working out for me.”
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According to Equibase statistics, the count stands at 995 wins with mounts in four of nine races when live action returns to historic Pimlico Race Course Friday to kick off a Memorial Day weekend program that includes a special holiday card Monday, May 31. Perez also had one mount in Delaware Park’s 10th race finale Wednesday.
Perez would be the second jockey to reach 1,000 wins in Maryland this year, following Carol Cedeno Jan. 2 at Laurel Park. Perez and Cedeno grew up together in Puerto Rico and were classmates at the country’s famed Escuela Vocacional Hipica, graduating in 2006 and beginning their professional careers in 2007.
“We are childhood friends. It meant a lot to me that she got that milestone, and now that I’m getting close to it I’m getting anxious. I just want to do it,” Perez said. “A thousand wins is a big milestone. It means a lot for every rider in the country and the world.”
Perez rode the winter and spring of 2007 in Puerto Rico before coming to the U.S. that summer, registering his first career winner aboard Danger Quest Aug. 25, 2007 at Charles Town, where another former classmate, Arnaldo Bocachica, had urged him to start.
“He is one of my best friends and he contacted me when I started riding. He told me he was talking to his agent and was telling him about me,” Perez said. “He said I didn’t have to bring anything, just my tack. I had a place to stay and a fresh start. That meant a lot. I’m blessed that he’s in my life. He’s been an amazing brother and amazing friend to me.”
Represented by agent J.D. Brown, Perez rode 3 ½ years at Charles Town – winning the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2010 with 57-1 long shot Sea Rescue – before moving to Maryland at the start of 2011. That fall, he won a total of 32 races for 20 different trainers at Laurel with an average win mutuel of $14.75.
The first big horse of Perez’s career was Susan Wantz’s Dance to Bristol, trained by Ollie Figgins III. During the winter, spring and summer of 2013 they won seven consecutive races including the Skipat at Pimlico, Bed o’Roses (G3) at Belmont Park, and Honorable Miss (G2) and Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga – the jockey’s first graded triumphs. They would end the year finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita.
Perez’s most memorable ride came earlier that year, gaining national attention for a mid-April trip aboard Spicer Cub that saw the gelding blow Pimlico’s far turn while on the lead, then bolt suddenly to the outside fence and around the parked starting gate before making a mad dash to the wire and finishing second by a nose. Perez lost both his irons in the process.
“That pushed me to have the campaign that I had. After Spicer Cub, a lot of trainers and owners were asking for me, and me and my agent were really busy. We were going to New York, Monmouth Park, Philadelphia, Colonial Downs, Charles Town. We were riding everywhere on the East Coast. It was a great year,” Perez said. “Still people talk about it. It makes me feel good. I got famous for something that was crazy. It was a jump start for me.”
Perez finished 2013 with 133 wins and $3.8 million in purse earnings, both of which remain career highs. He won his last graded-stakes with Bandbox in the 2014 General George (G3) at Laurel, and in recent years has been part of a formidable team with trainer John ‘Jerry’ Robb that has put him aboard multiple stakes winners Anna’s Bandit and Street Lute as well as Anna’s Bandit’s 2-year-old half-sister, Bandits Warrior, a debut winner May 23 at Pimlico.
Street Lute has raced 10 times with seven wins, six in stakes, and Perez has been aboard for each of her last seven races including five of her stakes victories. Anna’s Bandit owns 17 wins from 36 starts and Perez has accounted for 14 of her wins and 10 of her 11 stakes triumphs, riding in 30 of her last 31 races.
“Dance to Bristol was a special horse to me because it gave me my first graded races,” Perez said. “I didn’t have the chance to get on her in the morning like I do with these three mares. I’m there at 5:30 in the morning with Jerry’s horses. I take my time with Anna. I take my time with Street Lute. I take my time with Bandits Warrior, and it’s paying off. It means so much to me to get the chance to ride such amazing animals.”
Perez had 58 wins in Maryland in a coronavirus pandemic-shortened 2020, 41 of them in 157 starts (26 percent) for Robb – the most of any jockey-trainer combination on the year – including Robb’s 2,000th career victory with Stroll Smokin at Laurel. This year they are 19-for-63 (30 percent) together at Laurel and Pimlico.
“He’s at the barn every morning, he’s getting on them, he knows the horses. I think that means a lot, especially with young horses,” Robb said. “He gets on all the horses. He doesn’t get on them all every day, but he gets on all of them at one time or another and he knows them. I think that plays a big role in it.”
Other top horses for Perez have included multiple stakes winners Sensible Lady and Talk Show Man and 2015 Maryland Million Distaff winner Lionhearted Lady. Perez’s mounts have earned more than $25.6 million in purses.
“It would mean so much if I get to do it in Maryland, because the people in Maryland have been so great to me,” Perez said. “I have to say thanks to all the trainers that have supported me, riding me the 11 wonderful years I’ve been in Maryland. My agent has always been right there with me keeping me on the right path. He knows me well. Jerry and the whole team, they’ve been so amazing to me. They are like family to me. Me and my wife are so blessed and thankful to have such great people around us. I hope it stays like that for a while.”
Perez credits his wife, Jessica, for helping his maturity on and off the track. They met in 2009 when she was ponying the horse he was riding to the starting gate at Colonial Downs and have been together since.
“Thank God I have my wife beside me, 24-7. She’s always supported me and she never lets me get too down when I have bad days,” Perez said. “It’s been a great journey. There’s been ups and downs, but there’s been more ups than downs and I’m just grateful for that.”