Midlantic racing fertile ground for apprentice Eclipse Award

Beginning with the 1971 racing year, an Eclipse Award has been given to each year’s outstanding apprentice jockey. On January 7 the finalists for the 2022 season will be announced, and it is quite likely that local jock Jeiron Barbosa, who had 184 wins, will be in the mix for the honor.

If he does win, Barbosa will join a long list of jockeys who won the award and had a substantial presence in the mid-Atlantic region. A review of some of those local winners reveals that while the award has not always been a predictor of a Hall of Fame career, it has often identified riders who would be successful in the irons.

A partial list of Midlantic apprentice winners:

1974 Chris McCarron

Incredibly, in the year he turned 19, McCarron led the nation in wins and broke the record for most wins in a year with 547 first place finishes. For comparison purposes, no rider in 2022 had more than 325 wins.

After three years as a star on the local circuit, McCarron took his tack to California where he ultimately became a national star. He won each of the Triple Crown races two times and nine Breeders Cup races, including five wins in the Classic. In 1989 he was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame. By the time he retired in 2002 he had over 7,100 wins.

1978 Ron Franklin

In 1976, 16-year-old high school dropout Ronny Franklin secured a job as a hot walker at Pimlico Race Course. Trainer Bud Delp took him in, and soon Franklin obtained his jockey license. He won the Apprentice Eclipse Award in ’78, but he is best known as the jockey who rode Spectacular Bid in the Triple Crown races in 1979.

The media centered on the rags-to-riches storyline, particularly after the Baltimore native rode “Bid” to victory in the first two jewels of the Crown. Following a shocking defeat in the Belmont Stakes, Franklin was roundly criticized for his ride, although it was later reported that the horse had an injured hoof. He lost the horse to Bill Shoemaker, who piloted Spectacular Bid to immortality through the conclusion of his four-year-old season.

Although he gathered some other significant wins that year, Franklin’s career went downhill after that. The youngster who teamed up with the Bid for nine graded wins in 1978 and 1979 won only five more graded events the rest of his career.

He continued to have occasional success but struggled with drugs and with anger management issues. He won over 1,400 races in a 15-year career. In 2018 he died from cancer at the relatively young age of 58.

1987 Kent Desormeaux

Although Desormeaux began his career in Bayou country, he first rose to national fame on the Maryland circuit beginning in 1987 when he won 450 races and the Eclipse Award as champion apprentice. Two years later he would win the Eclipse Award for Jockey of the Year. In that three-year span he won over 1,500, including an all-time record of 597 wins in 1989.

Following his Maryland success, he became a top jockey on the California circuit. He again won jockey of the year in 1992. In 2004 he was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame.

Still, it hasn’t been quite a straight line to success. Battles with alcohol have led to some roller-coaster times. For his career he has ridden over 6,100 winners. His 53rd birthday is next month, and he has recently returned to riding following a suspension.

1989 Mike Luzzi

Younger bettors may only be aware of the NYRA career of Mike Luzzi, which began in 1994 and continues today.

However, Luzzi spent the first six years of his career in the mid-Atlantic, riding often in Maryland. He took home the Eclipse in 1989, when he won 239 races, and he won at least 177 races each year he rode in the region.

For his career he has over 3,500 wins. Son Lane Luzzi also is a jockey, currently based at Sam Houston.

1992 Rosemary Homeister, Jr.

Although she notched arguably her biggest career achievements in Florida, during the summer of her Eclipse Award year, Rosemary Homeister, Jr. competed mainly on the New Jersey circuit, making more than half her starts that year at Monmouth, the Meadowlands, and Atlantic City.

[VIDEO: Ben’s Cat and Rosemary Homeister, Jr. win the 2010 Mister Diz]

In that year she won 172 races overall and became one of only three women to win the Eclipse as top bug rider. For her career she won nearly 2,800 races before retiring in 2015. Among her local highlights: a pair of graded stakes wins at Delaware Park and the mount aboard the great Ben’s Cat in that runner’s first stakes win, the 2010 Mister Diz at Laurel Park.

1993 Juan Umana

Juan Umana burst on the scene in 1993, when he won 340 races and was a top Midlantic jockey primarily racing at Philadelphia Park.

Umana never reached such heights again; in fact, he never topped 99 wins in any other season. Yet for the remainder of his 15-year career, he remained a steady performer and finished with over 1,500 career wins and purse earnings exceeding $22 million.

2001 Jeremy Rose

Jeremy Rose’s star broke out of the racing bubble in 2005 when he piloted Afleet Alex to wins in both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. The former was especially notable, as Rose nearly was thrown from his mount at the head of the lane when Scrappy T veered in front of Afleet Alex.

Rose’s career had taken off five years earlier, and in 2001 he captured the Eclipse Award when he won 312 races. Rose won at least 150 races in each of his first 10 full years riding.

He admittedly has battled substance abuse problems and in 2020 and 2021 he stepped away from the game before returning last year. He exceeded 50 wins last year while riding sparingly, and for his career he has over 2,700 wins.


2002 Ryan Fogelsonger

Ryan Fogelsonger had a career that was heavily slanted to early excellence. He had 267 wins in his Eclipse Award-winning year, and the following year, he won even more, logging 278 wins.

[VIDEO: Ryan Fogelsonger Preakness memories]

By 2012 he was finished riding, and in his last four years combined he had 51 victories. Fogelsonger battled injuries throughout the latter part of his career, and careers like his – that begin with so much promise – are a reminder how hard it is to succeed at a high level for a long time.

[VIDEO: Ryan Fogelsonger: I miss the horses]

2012 Jose Montano

Jose Montano’s total of 226 wins in 2012 was impressive enough to win the Eclipse Award as top apprentice. That’s no mean feat, given his home track.

Virtually all of his mounts that year were at Charles Town. No other Charles Town jockey, before or since, has ever won that award.

For his career, Montano has over 1,400 victories and continues to be a consistent performer. His workload is much reduced, however, and in the four-year period 2019-2022, he netted 226 wins — equal to the total he gathered in his apprentice season.

2013 Victor Carrasco

Victor Carrasco exploded on the Maryland racing scene with 215 wins in 2013 capturing the Eclipse. A decade later he remains among the top Maryland jockeys.

Carrasco has battled injuries and also taken on a lighter day-to-day workload in recent years, so his win totals aren’t what they once were. But he’s also ridden more high-end horses, winning 25 stakes in 2021-22 and registering his first three graded victories.

Carrasco is currently out with injury, but once he comes back, he won’t likely have to wait long to reach 1,200 wins. He’s currently at 1,186.

[VIDEO: Victor Carrasco’s 1000th win]

A number of other riders based in the Mid-Atlantic also have won the Eclipse as top apprentice. From years past, these include jocks such as Alberto Delgado (1982), Art Madrid, Jr. (1985), and Mark Johnston (1990).

More recently, riders Weston Hamilton (2018) and Alexander Crispin (2020) both took home top apprentice rider honors. Both are still riding, Crispin locally and Hamilton mostly in Texas and Oklahoma. Also still riding, remarkably enough, is Alberto Delgado, some 40 years after he was the nation’s top bug boy.

With its plethora of nearby tracks, year-round racing schedules, and trainers willing to take a chance on a new kid, the Mid-Atlantic has proven fertile ground for apprentice riders over the years, producing more than a dozen honored as the nation’s top apprentice.