Axel Concepcion earns top apprentice Eclipse

Axel Concepcion, who began 2023 riding races in his native Puerto Rico, ended it by winning the Eclipse Award for champion apprentice jockey. He was chosen at the 53rd Annual Eclipse Awards ceremony, presented by FanDuel TV, John Deere, Keeneland, and The Jockey Club, at The Breakers Palm Beach.

Concepcion, 17 when he arrived in Maryland last February, won 21 races in Puerto Rico and one at the Fair Grounds before coming to Maryland. He won with his third Maryland mount February 25 when he piloted the Phil Capuano-trained Shinelikeadiamond to a win.

A couple of weeks after that initial victory, Concepcion enjoyed his first three-win day, registering a hat trick March 11, which was pretty heady stuff for a kid who not long before had been attending Puerto Rico’s famed jockey school, Escuela Vocacional Hipica.

“They’re doing a tremendous job getting these guys ready to ride and come to the United States,” Karin Wagner, then Concepcion’s agent, said of the school. “Just a great job.”

Wagner later shifted to the training side, handing Concepcion off to her partner Tom Stift, and the rider continued to soar in the Mid-Atlantic. At Delaware Park, he won with 21 of 75 mounts, an impressive 28% strike rate.

And at Laurel August 19, he had perhaps his best day yet. Concepcion won four races that day and lodged the first stakes victory of his career, piloting Field Pass to a win in the Find Stakes for Maryland-bred or -sired horses on the turf.

“I feel super-excited, a lot of emotions involved here,” Concepcion said afterwards. “A lot of sacrifice. Thanks to the owners and trainers to give me the opportunity to win some races here. I’m very grateful and excited to win my first stake.”

At the conclusion of the Delaware Park meeting, Concepcion shifted his tack to Kentucky and is currently riding at Turfway Park.

In 2023, Concepcion led all apprentice riders in total earnings with $5,179,154 and in wins with 199.

In other categories, Cody’s Wish, who won four of five starts including a second consecutive Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, earned Horse of the Year honors. The heartwarming story of his connection to now-deceased Cody Dorman helped cement the award in a year when no runners in the categories that typically produce the Horse of the Year – older males going long on the dirt or three-year-old males – compiled particularly gaudy resumes.

Axel Concepcion aboard Field Pass after winning the Find at Laurel Park. Photo by The Racing Biz.

The complete list of 2023 Eclipse Award winners, and vote totals appear, below:

(Horse ages in parentheses where applicable; Country codes indicate a foreign breeding designation) 

  • ·      Two-Year-Old Male: Fierceness
  • ·      Two-Year-Old Filly: Just F Y I
  • ·      Three-Year-Old Male: Arcangelo
  • ·      Three-Year-Old Filly: Pretty Mischievous
  • ·      Older Dirt Male: Cody’s Wish (5)
  • ·      Older Dirt Female: Idiomatic (4)
  • ·      Male Sprinter: Elite Power (5)
  • ·      Female Sprinter: Goodnight Olive (5)
  • ·      Male Turf Horse: Up to the Mark (4)
  • ·      Female Turf Horse: Inspiral (GB) (4)
  • ·      Steeplechase Horse: Merry Maker (IRE) (6)
  • ·      Owner: Godolphin LLC
  • ·      Breeder: Godolphin
  • ·      Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
  • ·      Apprentice Jockey: Axel Concepcion
  • ·      Trainer: Bill Mott
  • ·      Horse of the Year: Cody’s Wish