First Stateside win for apprentice Luis Rivera, Jr.

Apprentice Luis R. Rivera Jr. celebrated his 19th birthday in style on Monday’s Presidents Day holiday program at Laurel Park, guiding Leonard Mattingly’s multiple stakes-placed 4-year-old filly Beneath the Stars to a front-running two-length victory in the co-featured eighth race.

It was the second of three wins on the nine-race card for Anthony Farrior, who leads all North American trainers in victories in 2023 with 45 from 154 starters (29 percent). Sent off at 14-1 Beneath the Stars ($31.60) ran six furlongs in 1:11.68 over a fast main track in the second-level optional claiming allowance for fillies and mares 4 and up.

A native of Puerto Rico, where he attended the famed Escuela Vocacional Hipica jockey school, Rivera is the son of Luis Rivera Sr., a winner of 2,341 career races since 1997 currently riding at Mahoning Valley in Youngstown, Ohio. Interestingly, the elder Rivera rode Beneath the Stars to a fourth-place finish in the 2022 Cheryl S. White Memorial last spring.

“We put in some hard work and thank God Farrior gave me the opportunity to ride that filly, and she did a wonderful job,” Rivera said. “My dad used to ride that filly and now I had the opportunity to ride, and I’m so happy to win.”

Rivera began riding professionally Jan. 1 in Puerto Rico, where he won six of 55 races before arriving in the U.S. Feb. 15. He rode four races on Sunday, his first day at Laurel, finishing sixth in his domestic debut aboard Hope He’s Fast. Beneath the Stars was his sixth mount.

“He’s been the first jockey at the track every single morning so far. He’s getting there early and really working hard, and it’s nice to see something pay off,” Rivera’s agent, Marty Leonard, said. “All these horses that he’s on right now he was named on without anyone seeing him ride over here, so that’s a credit to a lot of these trainers that trust him.”

Luis Rivera
Apprentice Luis Rivera, Jr. earned his first Stateside win Monday at Laurel. Photo by Jim McCue.

Leonard also represents journeymen Sheldon Russell and Jevian Toledo, Maryland’s two-time defending champion jockey who also hails from Puerto Rico and was one of the first people to mention Rivera’s name.

“The first one that told me about him was Anthony Farrior. He used to ride Luis’ father a lot when he was out at Mountaineer, so they had a little connection through there. It was in the back of my mind,” Leonard said. “Then on Jan. 1, when all the bugs start riding their first races in Puerto Rico, Jevian called and told me to watch this kid. He said he didn’t look like a bug and he was pretty talented and a good rider. That piqued my interest a little more. Then I got a call from Steve Rushing about taking the kid. Three people that are pretty good at their jobs all suggested the kid and I decided to take the shot with him.

“He’s been good so far, hard worker in the morning, positive attitude – just everything you want to see in a kid,” he added. “He’s here to learn. It’s nice that he speaks English, too, because he can talk to people. He’s a heck of a kid. He’s happy to be over here and happy to be riding.”

Also on Monday, Rivera finished second on Wild Behavior for trainer Lacey Gaudet in Race 3 and eighth on Bosstonian for trainer Brittany Russell in the Race 9 finale. He is named on horses for Claudio Gonzalez and Charles Frock when live racing returns to Laurel Park Friday, Feb. 24.

NOTES The Brittany Russell-trained Circling the Drain earned a hard-fought allowance win over Termsofengagement for his second win in four lifetime starts; the West Coast gelding has never been worse than second. The Triple Crown-nominated sophomore may jump up to stakes company next out… Jockey Jorge Hernandez won twice on the card, including piloting Rascally Rebel to victory at odds of nearly 102-1…