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J.J. Delgado rode in more than 6,000 races as a jockey in the United States and never won a graded stakes during a career that spanned 1996 to 2014. But no one has spent as much time on Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage’s back than Delgado, the colt’s exercise rider.
Mage schooled in the starting gate at Pimlico Race Course Thursday morning before galloping 1 ½ miles under Delgado in preparation for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1).
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“I love the horse,” Delgado said. “He’s an easy horse to work with. He’s a very smart horse.”
Delgado should know. He started galloping the colt last year and knew from the start that he might be something special.
“I have 43 years of experience, so you know when the horses have talent, when the horse is so-so, and when the horse is a cheaper horse,” Delgado said. “The first time I rode the horse (Mage) in training, I said to the trainer, ‘You know what? This horse is a small horse, but he has a lot of talent.’”
Delgado, 60, was a jockey in Venezuela and rode horses there for Mage’s trainer, Gustavo Delgado, until moving to the United States and riding his first race at Calder Race Course in 1996.
“When I was a jockey, I rode in different places,” Delgado said. “Massachusetts. New Jersey. Florida. Ohio. Indiana. A few horses in Kentucky.”
Delgado rode his last race in 2014 due to weight issues and in order help care for his wife after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I wanted to spend my time with her, as a family,” he said.
Delgado now lives in Miami and works exclusively for trainer Gustavo Delgado, no relation.
While Delgado never won a graded stakes as a jockey (he rode in just three), he said he feels like he is a winner as Mage’s exercise rider.
“Thank God for giving me the opportunity to win a big race,” Delgado said.
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