Torres Off to Sizzling Start at Oaklawn

Cristian Torres | Coglianese

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Last year's meet at Oaklawn Park was not a particularly good one for jockey Cristian Torres. Largely unknown on the circuit when he came in and sidelined for the last five weeks of the meet when fracturing his right ankle in a spill, he won just 19 races, ending up 15th in the standings. Fast forward some eight months later and Torres is tearing the place apart. Two weeks into the meet, he's the leading rider with 11 wins and is winning with 33% of his mounts.

“We've started off on the right foot and it's been a great two weeks,” Torres said. “We're just trying to keep the momentum going and I just want to keep winning races. I'm riding for Robertino Diodoro and he has a good barn, a good team behind him and has his horses ready. He's doing an unbelievable job and so is Karl Broberg, who I'm riding for. It's a tough meet. There are a lot of good riders here so you have to be at your best.”

Torres is staying humble and maybe that's because the 25-year-old remembers where he came from. Too heavy to be accepted into the jockey academy in his native Puerto Rico, he trained to be en exercise rider after graduating from high school.

“I was in the exercise riders program at the school,” he said. “The weight in Puerto Rico is lower than here for bug boys. To be in the school, you have to weigh around 103, 105. That was too low for me. So I decided to go into exercise riders' program because you can be heavier. We basically learn the same thing, except the exercise riders are in the school for one year and the jockeys are in it for two years. In the second year, the jockeys ride in practice races. The exercise riders don't need that.”

Torres came to the U.S. in 2017 and galloped horses for two years before he decided to give being a jockey a try. He went on a crash diet, lost over 20 pounds in three months and started off at Gulfstream as an apprentice in 2019. In Florida, he cracked the top 10 in the standings but showed no signs of becoming the budding star he is today.

“I did pretty good as bug boy, but after I lost my bug the business went down,” Torres said. “I wanted to go somewhere else where I could get a fresh start.”

On the advice of agent Ruben Munoz, Torres came to Oaklawn at the start of the 2021-2022 meet and while he didn't win a lot of races, he began to make connections and lay down roots. From there, he went to Lone Star Park, but missed the first four weeks of the meet because of the broken ankle. Once healthy, he began to start riding winners and finished the Lone Star meet with 19 wins, good for eighth place in the standings.

The next stop was Remington Park.

“I had high expectations at Remington because of the way we finished up at Lone Star,” Torres said.

But never could he have expected what was to come. With 71 wins, he was the leading rider at Remington and won with 25% of his mounts. A key was connecting with Broberg, Remington's leading trainer, and Diodoro, who finished fifth in the Remington standings.

“He has quite a few things going for him,” Diodoro said. “He's got no issues behind the scenes. He's just a hardworking kid and is only 25 years old. He's a very patient rider, especially for being as young as he is. He's very grateful for things. He stays even. He can walk out of that jocks room having won three races or going 0-for-6 and nothing changes. When things don't rattle a rider, they are very patient, their weight is good and they have the right attitude that adds up to being a successful rider. At Remington, he got some live mounts from us, he got some from Broberg and some from other guys and he took full advantage of it. It's carried on to Oaklawn. A rider can work as hard as they want if you don't have the stock that makes things pretty difficult. He got some live mounts and took full advantage of it. He's on his way now.”

Staying on top at Oaklawn won't be easy. David Cabrera, Francisco Arrieta and Ricardo Santana Jr. were the top riders at last year's meet and all three are back and in position to have strong campaigns. He also doesn't ride regularly for Steve Asmussen, the dominant trainer at Oaklawn. Torres says he's ready for the challenge.

“I feel I'm a better, more confident rider than I was a few years ago,” he said. “But I still have lot to learn. I've been riding for just 3 1/2 years. But since I moved to Oaklawn last year I feel that I am a better rider. I'm feeling more confident and am getting more opportunities.”

After Oaklawn, he will return to Lone Star and then to Remington. That's the plan for now, but he admits he has an eye on trying to break in on one of the major circuits, New York, Kentucky or California.

“We're just trying to keep building our business,” he said. “My agent [Cody Autrey] and I are working together and hope to keep building so that we're in a good position if I decide to make a move. But riding at the top tracks, that's definitely a goal.”

At Oaklawn, he's already proving he can win at a top-tier track. And the best may be yet to come.

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