01/07/2011 10:50AM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Apprentice jockey

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FOREST BOYCE

For most of the first half of 2010, Maryland-based Forest Boyce was having what might be considered an ordinary year, one very much typical for an apprentice jockey, riding a few horses a day and winning at about a 12 percent rate.

At that point few would have predicted Boyce would win more races in Maryland than any other rider in 2010. But after teaming up with agent Jay Burtis at the Colonial Downs meeting over the summer in Virginia, she did just that upon her return to Maryland, largely by winning the summer and fall riding titles at Laurel Park.

Boyce, 26, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art who was a longtime exercise rider for Mikey Smithwick, Dick Small, and Jonathan Sheppard before launching her riding career, said her sudden turnaround was “pretty wild.”

She said being older than the average apprentice jockey left her better prepared for the peaks and valleys of being a rider.

“I don’t think I would have been ready or mature enough to ride at 16 or 17,” she told Daily Racing Form. “As much as I hated going to college, Dickie [Small] and my parents were right. I needed to go. It helped me grow up.

“People are constantly saying to me, ‘Could you imagine if you had a full year like that?’ To be honest, I’m grateful it worked out this way. I got to meet a lot of good people along the way. I got to learn a lot.”

Those lessons have continued to serve her well. Even after losing her apprentice weight allowance in early December, she went on to have a four-win day at Laurel Dec. 16 as a journeyman rider.

Boyce isn’t about to take all the credit, praising Burtis, her prior agents, and of course, the horses she rode.

“It takes two to get across the wire,” she said.

OMAR MORENO

Buoyed by winning a Sovereign Award in Canada as outstanding apprentice in 2009, jockey Omar Moreno became the winningest apprentice in North America in 2010, winning 144 races and over $5.3 million.

Now an even larger prize could loom: an Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding apprentice. He and fellow apprentices Forest Boyce and Angel Serpa are the three finalists for the prestigious award.

Moreno has strength in numbers – easily having won the most races of any apprentice and with his mounts earning more than double the earnings of his closest pursuer, Serpa, who won $2.4 million.

Based in Canada, Moreno finished fifth in the 2010 standings at Woodbine, scoring all but 20 of his victories on the year there, with the other wins coming at Fort Erie.

Moreno, 25, a graduate of the jockeys’ school at Olds College in Calgary, even won three stakes, races that are traditionally tough for apprentices to gain top mounts in without their weight allowance.

One thing Moreno has never lacked is toughness. A native of war-torn El Salvador who moved to Canada as a refugee in 1991, he initially found success in another sport: boxing. He became a three-time junior national champion until a shoulder injury ended his dreams in that sport.

Moreno served notice at Woodbine last fall and won 22 races late in the year, catapulting him to a Sovereign Award. He hopes to build upon his success from 2010 as a journeyman rider in 2011.

“People probably expect a lot of me and I expect a lot of myself, too,” he told Daily Racing Form in November. “But I don’t like getting ahead of myself. I just do the best I can. When good things happen, they happen. Then I can look back, and take a moment to appreciate them.”

For now he is appreciating the honor of being an Eclipse finalist. And if he wins, that “would be fantastic, amazing,” he said. “Like something I never dreamed would be possible.”

ANGEL SERPA

A year after Puerto Rican-born jockey Christian Santiago Reyes won the Eclipse Award as the North America’s outstanding apprentice, Angel Serpa, another Puerto Rican, is one of three finalists for the same prize.

Even though his apprenticeship lasted until just July 25, Serpa was the second leading money-earning apprentice of 2010, trailing only Omar Moreno, another finalist along with Forest Boyce.

In contrast to Boyce and Moreno – who plied their trade mostly in Maryland and Canada, respectively – Serpa rode over a variety of different locales in the Northeast in 2010, mostly in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

He won 36 races over the inner track at Aqueduct during the track’s winter meet in 2009-2010, with 29 of those victories coming in 2010. Then in the spring and summer, while riding in both New York and New Jersey, he went 7 for 46 at Belmont Park, and was 14 for 181 at Monmouth Park over the period there in which he carried his apprentice allowance.

Serpa, 23, even lit up the board in his final day as an apprentice July 25, piloting 101-1 longshot No Fret to victory in the fourth race at Monmouth Park that afternoon.

Riding in New York in the fall of 2009 was likely to his benefit. He said early last year that spending time with New York’s elite riding colony that autumn made him a better rider.

“I’m working on and want to learn to become a little more patient, because I know patience pays off,” he told Daily Racing Form through an interpreter. “When you get a little too anxious, it’s hard to win that way.”

Photos: Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club, Michael Burns, Barbara D. Livingston