01/20/2013 4:33PM

Charles Town: Montano's Eclipse Award as top apprentice a first for West Virginia track

Mike Montgomery
Jose Montano not only was the runaway leading rider at Charles Town, but was recognized with an Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice rider.

For the first time, someone with direct ties to Charles Town was honored with an Eclipse Award when jockey Jose Montano was named the outstanding apprentice for 2012 at Saturday night’s awards dinner at Gulfstream Park.

Montano, 26, easily beat out New York-based rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Angel Suarez, who rides primarily at Parx Racing and Penn National, to win the award. Three years ago, Charles Town-based Luis Batista was nominated as the nation’s top apprentice, but finished third behind Luis Saez and winner Christian Santiago Reyes.

"I want to thank the trainers and owners for supporting me," said Montano through Laffit Pincay Jr. who served as an interpreter after presenting the award.

Montano picked up the first victory of his career on Oct. 4, 2011 aboard Catena Zapata at Mountaineer Racetrack. He had 1,075 mounts nationwide in 2012 and responded with 225 wins and racked up $3,613,984 in earnings. However, all but 9 of those victories and $170,000 in earnings came in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, where Montano has established himself as the track’s leading rider, finishing more than 100 wins and $1,000,000 ahead of runner-up Travis Dunkelberger in the 2012 jockey standings.

As an apprentice in 2012, Montano won 187 races from 899 mounts with earnings of $2,891,906 until Oct. 14, his last riding with a weight allowance.

“I started riding at Mountaineer, but I just like all the people here around Charles Town so much,” said Montano of his home track following the announcement of his nomination earlier this month. "I have to thank all of the people here who gave me a chance to ride.”

The most prominent trainer to show support was Charles Town’s leading trainer, Jeff Runco, whose 160 wins last year placed him in the top 10 nationally. In a career in which he was won more than 3,000 races and his share of bug riders, Runco considers Montano to be one of the best.

“He's a good rider and he makes good decisions,” Runco said. “He's one of the more advanced bug riders I've seen in quite some time.

Montano’s best performances in 2012 for Charles Town’s top barn came on April 27 when he piloted four winners for Runco and later rode a pair of winners for him on the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic program.

“He has great work habits and shows up at work on time and that’s why he does well,” Runco added. “He’s a very good bug rider and is going to make a very good journeyman as well.”

While Montano himself admits the trainers who have employed him contributed to his success those around him laud the jockey’s good work habits.

“He’s just an extremely hard worker,” said his agent, Billy Kennedy. “He’s always there. He’s never late. There’s just never a problem with him and he’s always trying to get better."