After 4-year absence, Orlando Bocachica back in the saddle

When he arrived at Charles Town last summer, jockey Orlando Bocachica was looking to close the chapter on his career as a rider and begin anew as a trainer on the local circuit where his younger brother, Arnaldo Bocachica, is the leading jockey.

But the older Bocachica, who arrived at Charles Town weighing roughly 150 pounds – nearly 35 pounds above his current riding weight – gradually had a change of heart. Once he began shedding pounds and feeling comfortable again in the irons, he decided his retirement from riding was premature.

Now, more than four years after hanging ‘em up, Orlando Bocachica has rapidly made his presence known in Charles Town. The 40-year-old Bocachica — seven years older than his brother — has recorded nine winners from his first 97 mounts during his comeback. That includes a win in the West Virginia Futurity aboard No Love for Juba for owner-breeder-trainer James Casey.

“It really wasn’t that tough for me to lose the weight,” said Bocachica, who boasts 1,338 winners and purse earnings of nearly $23.4 million from almost 9,600 career mounts. “I was up close to 150 [pounds], but the weight came off pretty easily. I didn’t have to change my diet, I just spent more time outside in the sun. But once I got back on the horses, I felt pretty good. I felt like I could still ride. It took a few weeks for me to really feel comfortable again, but it came back.”

December 8 at Charles Town, Orlando Bocachica steered Juba Bound to a handy, 6 1/2-length score as the even-money choice in a two-turn allowance for state-breds for John Casey, who has been instrumental in the rider’s comeback.

“This was the first time that I have ever been aboard him,” Bocachica said of Juba Bound, who covered the seven furlongs in 1:25.83 for his second win in nine starts this year. “But once I got on him, I could tell he felt really strong. When they settled down the backside, I saved ground and then sent him nearing the quarter pole.”

It’s been a bit of an adjustment from the mile tracks where Bocachica did most of his work earlier in his career. He rode frequently at Tampa Bay Downs, as well as places like Monmouth Park and Delaware Park.

Orlando (left) and Arnaldo Bocachica. Photo by Ted Black.

“That’s the biggest difference between riding here and riding at the bigger tracks,” he explained. “You don’t have that long stretch. You have to start moving on them a little sooner. If you wait too long you end up getting yourself beat.”

While his younger brother clearly has bragging rights statistically – Arnaldo Bocachica is approaching 200 wins and $5 million in earnings this year and is one win shy of 2,400 in a career in which his mounts have earned nearly $44 million – the older Bocachica brother owns one distinct edge.

Orlando Bocachica boasts the only Grade 1 victory earned by the brothers, having steered Lochte to a 39-1 upset in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf in February, 2014. He would later ride Lochte in two more Grade I races, finishing second in the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita and then third in the Maker’s 46 Mile behind two-time horse of the year Wise Dan.

“That horse had a real good finishing kick,” Orlando Bocachica said of Lochte. “I remember just saving ground the whole trip and then coming through along the inside and he got up to win as a big long shot. I had won with him the start before [against allowance company] so he was not getting much respect in a Grade 1. But he was really good. He raced well in California and Kentucky when I rode him there. I can’t really brag too much. I think [Arnaldo] will get a Grade I someday, maybe in New York. He just hasn’t gotten that chance yet.”

Having shed over 30 pounds to attain riding weight again following a four-year layoff, Orlando Bocachica has decided to forgo a potential training career for the near future. In addition to riding for Casey, the older Bocachica has picked up mounts for Angelo Jackson and Crystal Pickett and even made the trip to Mountaineer Park to compete in overnight races at the state’s other thoroughbred venue.

In the four-day race week that began December 14, he was named on 20 horses for 10 different trainers.

“I think I will stick with riding for a while,” Bocachica said. “I didn’t know how much I missed it until I came back here and got back on horses for Casey and Angelo. I needed a few weeks to really get my balance back. But now I feel real comfortable out there.”

Sweetening the pot: seeing younger brother Arnaldo on the track.

“I get the chance to compete against my brother on occasion,” Orlando said. “He’s done really well up here and I’m happy for him, and I’m proud of my little brother. But when we get in the [starting] gate together, I want to beat him.”