01/05/2017 3:50PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Luis Ocasio

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Luis Ocasio’s life has changed in many ways during the past year, and now he finds himself one of three Eclipse Awards finalists for the leading apprentice rider of 2016.

Ocasio, 19, grew up in the countryside of Canovanas, Puerto Rico, near Camarero racetrack. Although his family had no connection to horse racing, he enrolled in the Escuela Vocacional Hipica, the famed Puerto Rico jockey school that has produced so many top U.S. riders.

Things were slow for Ocasio after graduation, and he started the year at Camarero with 3 wins from 84 mounts. But he was recruited by Parx Racing jockey agent Gersom Rodriguez and, despite speaking little English, moved to the United States in March.

“My father scouts these kids and tells me who looks best,” Rodriguez said. “I spoke to Luis and his family, and he agreed to come. I told him to get a ticket and let’s get started.”

Ocasio led all apprentices in 2016 with 106 wins and purse earnings of $2.82 million. He won his first U.S. race on March 20 and then won three times in April before his career took off.

Ocasio finished second in the Parx standings against a veteran group of riders.

“It’s been an incredible year,” said Ocasio, who at 5-foot-6 can tack 108 pounds. “Not in my wildest dreams could I think I would have such a year. The people at Parx have been so good to me, the riders and the trainers. I would like to thank everyone who helped jump-start my career.”

Ocasio said he thinks his riding has improved greatly during the course of his apprenticeship. He will keep his weight allowance until April.

“I feel I have improved my style very much,” Ocasio said. “To win the Eclipse would mean everything to me after coming from such humble beginnings. It would mean so much to me and my family.”