Bug boy Jeiron Barbosa wins with first two Stateside mounts

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As first impressions go, it doesn’t get any better than what Jeiron Barbosa did Friday at Laurel Park.

A 10-pound apprentice from San Juan, Puerto Rico who had been in the U.S. for all of two days, the 18-year-old Barbosa made an immediate splash on the American racing scene by winning with each of his first two domestic mounts.

Aboard Magic Stable’s Heliacal Rising ($6.60), Barbosa raced in mid-pack before sweeping to the lead on the far outside at the top of the stretch and passing Claudio Gonzalez-trained stablemate Chica Rabiosa to capture Friday’s opener, a one-mile claimer for 3-year-old fillies, by 6 ½ lengths.

In Race 3, a claimer for 4-year-olds and up going about 1 1/16 miles, Barbosa and Abuelitas Racing Stable’s 5-year-old gelding Ludicrous Mode ($6.60) found themselves last coming off the far turn  but were able to navigate between horses, drop down to the rail and rally past Flatexcel for a one-length triumph. Ludicrous Mode is trained by Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon.

“It feels really good,” Barbosa said through family friend and fellow Maryland-based jockey Angel Cruz, who rode Chica Rabiosa. “It is a dream of mine to ride in the United States. To win my first two races right away helps to take away some of the pressure.”

Barbosa attended the famed Escuela Hipica Vocacional in Puerto Rico for two years. According to Equibase statistics, he began riding professionally Jan. 1 at Camarero Racetrack, winning his first race the following day aboard Queque, and had three wins, 10 seconds and 11 thirds from 72 mounts.

“They wanted me to take him a few months ago, but I told them with the cold weather up here and the shorter fields to stay down there and ride more horses and get some experience and when the weather breaks, I’ll bring him up here,” Barbosa’s agent, Tom Stift, said. “He looks like a little kid, but he looks good on a horse.”

Jeiron Barbosa. Photo Jim McCue.

Barbosa wound up in Maryland thanks to his relationship with Cruz, whose wife is related to Barbosa’s mother and best friends with Barbosa’s sister. He was inspired to become a jockey by his late grandmother.

“She loved the horses and horse racing, and when she passed away I wanted to become a jockey as a tribute to her,” Barbosa said. “It was my goal to become a jockey and everybody was telling me I could do it.”

Stift said Barbosa has been getting on horses for trainers Gonzalez, Sanchez-Salomon and Jose Corrales since his arrival. He is named aboard Glorious Weekend for trainer Marco Salazar in Race 1 Sunday, closing day of Laurel’s 2022 winter meet.

“[The trainers] all said he has good hands on a horse. Being that small, you can’t outmuscle them. You have to have good hands,” Stift said. The agent also represented fellow Puerto Rico native Victor Carrasco upon his arrival in the U.S. Carrasco, still based in Maryland, went on to win the 2013 Eclipse Award as champion apprentice.

“I’ve had bugs in the past, like Victor Carrasco. When I brought him up here, Victor didn’t speak any English either, but within two months he was speaking English,” Stift said. “You can just tell when they want to learn, and that’s what Jeiron reminds me of.”

Through Cruz, Barbosa also thank all the connections who helped make his dream of riding, and winning, in the U.S. a reality.

“His goal is to stay here in Maryland and keep riding,” Cruz said. “I’ve known him since he was 10 years old. He listens, he works hard and he’s a good kid.”