08/01/2012 3:54PM

Emerald Downs: Matias having breakthrough year

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AUBURN, Wash. – Javier Matias’s wife, Elsa, stopped a reporter the other day to ask that more be written about her husband. It was a sensible request. Including his victory Sunday aboard Mike Man’s Gold in the Premio Esmeralda Stakes, the veteran jockey had ridden 24 winners through the first 52 days of the Emerald Downs meeting to rank eighth in the standings. More important, Matias has four stakes victories at the stand, tied at the top with leading rider Juan Gutierrez.

Matias has mounts on two horses Friday as he looks to build on his breakthrough season. He’ll be aboard Jadey Baby in the fifth race and the front-running Allison Ridge in the nightcap, both for trainer Robbie Baze. But the biggest race for Matias, and one of the most anticipated of his career, is two weeks out, when he will ride leading contender Winning Machine in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

Matias, a 40-year-old native of Mexico City, secured the mount on Winning Machine from trainer Frank Lucarelli in a roundabout way, and the partnership has resulted in two stakes victories followed by a narrow loss in the Mount Rainier Handicap in the final stakes prep before the Mile.

“I was working him before the meeting started,” Matias said of Winning Machine. “Leslie Mawing was going to ride him, and then he made the choice to ride Noosa Beach because he was the top horse last year. So Frank gave me a chance to ride him. I think he’s in a great moment right now. He’s feeling so good. I think he’s got a good chance.”

Winning Machine is an undersized horse with a remarkable will to win. Prominent on the pace in the 1 1/16-mile Mount Rainier, he fought back gamely when collared by the winner, Hudson Landing, and the late-running St Liams Halo, finishing third by a head after what Matias said was a less-than-optimal trip.

“He had a bad day,” he said. “In the gate, he was a little excited, and then the second jump, he stumbled a little bit, and they came in so quick, I had to take my horse out. I may have used my horse too early. But he still ran so good for me. The horse, I think he is going to be tough next time.”

Matias said he’s the same rider he’s always been. The difference this year: He’s getting on better horses, big shots like Winning Machine.

“I’m feeling so happy, because nobody gave me a chance to ride the good ones, and now I have better horses,” he said. “When you win races, the people notice. I’m a good jockey. Sometimes you have to ride good horses to look good.