01/25/2017 2:04PM

Champion apprentice Ocasio plans to keep riding at Parx

Luis Ocasio, 19, won 107 races and had purse earnings of more than $2.8 million in the United States last year.

Luis Ocasio, who was named the leading apprentice rider in North America at the Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park last Saturday, is the third Mid-Atlantic rider in the last five years to win the award. He follows in the footsteps of Victor Carrasco, a top rider in Maryland who won in 2013, and Jose Montano, the leading rider at Charles Town each of the past five years who won in 2012.

Ocasio, 19, won 107 races and had purse earnings of more than $2.8 million in the United States last year after moving to Pennsylvania from Puerto Rico in March at the request of jockey agent Gersom Rodriguez. He led all apprentices in both races won and money earned. Ocasio finished second in the Parx Racing rider standings.

He admitted to “feeling anxious and a little nervous” as the winner was about to be announced.

“When I heard my name I was on Cloud 9,” he said. “I am proud to win the award not only for myself but for Puerto Rico, the island, and I am especially happy for my family after all they’ve been through, with me leaving home and being up here alone.”

Ocasio knew little English when he came to the United States, but he attends weekly classes and has made great progress. He wrote his own acceptance speech, which he read on stage while accepting his award.

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“He told me that he wanted to write a speech in case he won,” Rodriguez said. “I told him I would help translate it to English for him but that I was not standing up there with him because then there would just be two nervous guys on stage. I thought he did great.”

Ocasio and Rodriguez plan to stay at Parx for the foreseeable future.

“Right now, the main thing is to keep our rhythm from the end of last year,” Rodriguez said. “Whenever an opportunity to ride a horse in Maryland or New York shows up we will be there, but the best thing we can do right now is stay here and let Luis polish his English and his riding skills.”

Other Eclipse-winning apprentices who have ridden extensively at Parx during their awards-winning season include Roberto Rosado, who tied with Phil Teator in 1997 and who still rides at Parx; the late Steve Capanas, who won in 1988; and Art Madrid Jr., the 1985 winner.

Paco Lopez, the Eclipse Awards-winning apprentice of 2008, also rides in the region much of the year and has won the last four riding titles at Monmouth Park and led the standings there five times since 2010.