01/08/2014 2:35PM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Manuel Franco

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photo by: Adam Coglianese/NYRA

Manuel Franco proved to be among the top apprentices in New York in 2013, and for a rookie year in which he compiled more than $4 million in mount earnings, he is an Eclipse Award finalist for North America’s champion apprentice.

Franco, 19, has drawn comparisons to the brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz, who rank among the leading riders in New York. Franco, like the Ortiz brothers, is a native of Puerto Rico.

“He’s along the same lines as Irad and Jose,” trainer Bruce Brown told Daily Racing Form. “He’s just a good kid. He communicates well with you, does what you tell him to do. He’s got that killer instinct that a lot of bug riders don’t have. He doesn’t ride like a bug boy, from what I’ve seen.”

Franco, a graduate of a vocational riding school, began competing in New York last spring. But he chose to spend his summer in New Jersey, and he hit his stride at Monmouth Park, where he was the meet’s leading apprentice. Franco also ranked sixth in the overall standings at the track, with 43 wins from 272 mounts.

“That was good for me,” Franco told Daily Racing Form. “I ride better. I picked up a lot more experience.”

Franco returned to New York for the fall meet at Belmont Park and finished 10th in the standings. By the end of the year, he was the sixth-leading rider at Aqueduct and had won his first career stakes there, aboard Laguna Girl in the $100,000 Are We Dreamin on Dec. 27.

Franco won 132 races from 1,109 starts last year. His mounts earned $4,380,919, second among all apprentices in North America.