07/22/2013 12:18PM

Delaware Park: Apprentice Carrasco making a good impression

Apprentice Victor Carrasco entered the week ranked second among jockeys with 37 wins at the Delaware Park meet.

STANTON, Del. – Long before the recently retired Ramon Dominguez left Delaware Park for New York and won three Eclipse Awards, observers who watched him ride here regularly for almost a decade often used the term “natural” to describe how he would sit motionless on a horse, with quiet hands, until just the right time, and then would elicit an instant response from his mount.

At the current Delaware Park meet, a 21-year-old apprentice from Puerto Rico named Victor Carrasco has fans and horsemen drawing comparisons between the young rider and Dominguez in his early days.

A native of San Juan, Carrasco has been around horses since he was young, as his grandfather was a trainer, but he was not allowed to work or gallop horses until he graduated from high school.

“My grandfather would lead me around the shed row on horses when I was 9 or 10, but until I graduated from high school, I could only groom horses during the summer months,” Carrasco said recently before the races at Delaware Park. “My granddad wanted me to learn horses from the ground up and also get an education before I began riding.”

Carrasco enrolled in a school for jockeys in Puerto Rico after he graduated, then moved to the track, where he won 11 races before coming to the United States. After riding a few horses in Florida, Carrasco moved to Delaware Park and, with help of Juan Vazquez – tied for second among trainers in the Delaware standings with 12 wins at the meet – and others, got off to a quick start at the current stand.

Entering Monday’s card, Carrasco had won 37 races at the meeting to rank second in the standings behind Alex Cintron. On Saturday, he rode in his first Grade 1 race, finishing second aboard She’s All In for trainer Donnie Von Hemel in the Delaware Handicap, won by Royal Delta.

Carrasco is riding for many of the top outfits on the grounds, including Scott Lake, a trainer of more than 5,300 winners. Lake said he sees similarities between Carrasco and Dominguez when it comes to the way they rate and handle mounts. Dominguez was forced to retire as a jockey last month following a January spill at Aqueduct in which he suffered a brain injury.

“Ramon used to tuck those hands up to his chest, just sit there, and lull his mounts almost to sleep to the stretch,” Lake said. “Then he knew just when to push the button and just how much horse he had when the time came.

“This kid [Carrasco] has a little different style, but he has those nice, soft hands, and he doesn’t get antsy or move too soon in races. A lot of young riders will wrestle with their horses, but not this kid. He has great communication with his mounts.”

Jamie Ness, the leading trainer at Delaware Park, also uses Carrasco and has been impressed by the rider’s poise and maturity.

“He rides and acts more like a rider that is about to become a journeyman than one who just started his bug,” Ness said. “He is also good in the morning, getting young horses to change leads and respond the right way, and that’s something even some older riders haven’t mastered. And he has an excellent work ethic. He’s always on time in the morning, and sometimes he’s even early. I think the young man’s got a very bright future.”

Trainer Tom Clark said Carrasco’s affection for horses is evident all the time.

“He gets on an older horse for me that has his share of problems and doesn’t go all that well sometimes, but every time he gets off the horse, he pats him and gives him a big hug.” Clark said.

Carrasco’s agent, Tom Stift, says the youngster hasn’t taken a day off in four months.

“It was pouring down rain the other morning, and I called him up and said if he wanted to take a morning off, it was okay,” Stift said. “He asked me if the track was open for training. I said yes, and he said, ‘I’ll be there in 15 minutes.’ ”

Carrasco plans to continue riding at Delaware, and when racing resumes in Maryland, he will ride there on Delaware’s dark days as he and his agent try to earn Eclipse Award consideration as the country’s top apprentice.