It was not without drama all the way to the finish as Joe Ramos scored his second consecutive Leading Jockey title by one win, coming down to the final race of the meet. Ramos completed the season with 109 wins over Fernando De La Cruz with 108.
Ramos, a native of Puerto Rico, started the season off slow but kicked into gear about a month in and began climbing the charts. By August, he had taken over the top spot and led all jockeys by several wins until the final month of the meet.
De La Cruz closed in the final three weeks and at one time tied Ramos, but Ramos retook the lead and held onto the title.
“First of all, I thank the Lord because he keeps me healthy and gives me the opportunity to do this again,” said Ramos, who has made his home in Shelbyville. “There are a lot of people that work hard for me. I worked hard for this, and I dreamed of this, but it wouldn’t be possible without all the people around me. My agent, Bones (Kerry Wirth), deserves the credit. He is the one that gets my business going and when we struggle, he takes me out of that and gets me back going.”
Ramos topped his tally of 106 wins from 2022. He completes the 2023 season with $3,233,548. A win percentage of 18% boosted him to the top along with a 48% top-three showing. He was also the tracks leading Apprentice Jockey in 2019.
“I feel very blessed to work around some great people,” added Ramos. “I thank Randy (Klopp) and Roger (Spiess) for the opportunity to ride for them and also, a thank you to all the people that work on the backside, such as the grooms and hotwalkers. They don’t get a lot of recognition, but they work very hard and are responsible for the horses doing so well.”
Ramos was joined by many family and friends for his Leading Jockey presentation. Eric Halstrom, Vice President and General Manager, made the presentation along with Chris Polzin, Director of Racing following the final race of 2023 at Horseshoe Indianapolis.
Leading Quarter Horse Jockey
Giovani Vazquez-Gomez began the 2023 season on top of the standings for all Quarter Horse jockeys and he ended the season on top to score his first career title at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Vazquez-Gomez earned 29 wins and more than $546,000 in purses to win the title over Rolando Pina with 25 wins.
A native of Mexico, Vazquez-Gomez has been among the top 10 jockeys at Horseshoe Indianapolis for the past eight seasons with several third-place finishes. He is ranked third on the list of all-time leading Quarter Horse jockeys with 137 wins and more than $3 million in earnings.
“Gio (Vazquez-Gomez) was the one who made the decision to try out Indiana eight years ago,” said his wife, Jessi Vazquez, who interpreted for him during the presentation. “He works so hard. He does it all, top to bottom. Sometimes he shoes horses before he comes in to ride. I’m so proud of him and he’s so deserving of this award. He says he is so happy to win this. It’s a great accomplishment for him.”
Giovani and Jessi Vazquez met near her hometown of Elgin, Illinois. He was the jockey for her father’s horses. They have been a team for the past 10 years with Jessi breaking several of her own records this season as the top female Quarter Horse trainer in Indiana. She completes the 2023 season with 33 wins to finish second in the Leading Quarter Horse Trainer standings.
Vazquez-Gomez was presented with a custom belt buckle for his win as Leading Quarter Horse Jockey. He was joined by Jessi along with their four children, Zuria, Giovani Jr., Miranda, and Ismael along with many of their family members for the winner’s circle presentation.
Leading Apprentice Jockey
Hannah Leahey and McKenna Anderson have been in sync all season. Both jockeys came into Indiana in the spring as apprentice jockeys. Both lost their apprenticeship the same week in late August, and both scored 16 wins during that time frame to earn the title in the 10th annual Juan Saez Leading Apprentice award.
“It’s really cool and nice to get rewarded from all the hard work that we both put in throughout the year,” said Anderson. “We have worked with some really hard-working people here and we thank them for giving us this opportunity to ride.”
Leahey added, “It’s such an achievement. McKenna and I have been riding together from the beginning. It’s a great feeling to share this award with her. We thank all the barns that helped us get here.”
Leahey, a native of Bloomington, Ill., was introduced to Thoroughbred racing when she took on a job to help pay for her event (show) horses. She eventually pursued a career full time as a jockey, and began her career in March 2022 at Turf Paradise, winning her third start aboard Freiburg.
An injury sidelined her for a while and delayed her career as a jockey, but she returned this season at Oaklawn in Arkansas, which led her straight to Horseshoe Indianapolis. Leahey continued to win races after losing her apprenticeship and now has 21 wins to rank among the top 15 jockeys in her first season of competition in Indiana.
A native of Washington State, Anderson headed straight to the track after graduation and began working as a groom. She worked her way up through the ranks and received her jockey license in 2021 at her home track Emerald Downs, winning her first race aboard Tippytap on Sand. Her career then took her to Turf Paradise in Arizona before a move to the Midwest.
Anderson is spending her second year at Horseshoe Indianapolis. After limited starts last season, she came back this year and her career took off. She is currently tied for 11th in the standings with 23 wins.
The tie between Leahey and Anderson is the second in the 10-year history of the award. Joe Ramos and Kendal Sterritt also tied for the title in 2019. Leahey and Anderson become the sixth and seventh female jockeys to win the award.
The Juan Saez Leading Apprentice Jockey award is named in honor of the 18-year-old Panamanian jockey, Juan Saez, who was tragically lost in a racing incident in 2014 at Horseshoe Indianapolis. He was posthumously awarded the Leading Apprentice title that season, and the award was officially named after him.
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