09/23/2011 4:24PM

Emerald: Promising rider Camacho-Flores to test Golden Gate


AUBURN, Wash. − Jockey Leonel Camacho-Flores, whose rapid development was one of the top storylines at Emerald Downs in 2011, will test the waters in Northern California this winter.

A 27-year-old native of Zacatecas, Mexico, Camacho-Flores will head to Golden Gate Fields, where his mounts will be booked by Vito Lucarelli, the agent for Leslie Mawing, Emerald’s leading rider.

Camacho-Flores began the week with 42 victories, good for eighth in the standings. He won the John and Kitty Fletcher Stakes aboard E Z Kitty last Sunday, his first Emerald Downs stakes win.

Camacho-Flores was scheduled to ride a slew of live horses during the final three-day weekend at Emerald, including a promising 2-year-old maiden, Mattie Blue, for trainer Dan Markle in Saturday’s first race. Markle, who spends his winters at Golden Gate, said Camacho-Flores has the tools to succeed on a tougher circuit.

“The kid’s got a lot of try,” Markle said. “I don’t know if he’s had a lot of help along the way. He’s sure showed a lot of determination. I like the way he finishes on a horse. He comes out, good weather, bad weather, and he’s very upbeat. I know he’s grateful for all the opportunities he gets.

“He’ll need to get lucky and get on a live horse or two down there, but his work ethic should bring him a lot of good luck,” he said.

Camacho-Flores was a struggling apprentice not long ago, winning one race at Emerald in 2009 and 11 in 2010, when his mounts finished in the top three just 25 percent of the time. But he improved steadily over the 2010 season’s final few weeks and won dozens of races at Portland Meadows last winter. He returned to Emerald this spring with agent Steve Puhich. When Puhich died of a heart attack in early July, Camacho-Flores switched to Ken Greene.

“Having Kenny Greene as an agent has really helped him,” Markle said. “Kenny is an old master. He’s steered him to the right barns and got him on a lot of live horses.”

Markle said Camacho-Flores has made dramatic strides in a demanding profession.

“I think he started off walking hots down there at Golden Gate, and he didn’t even know how to lead a horse back then,” Markle said. “He’s come a long way. He’s picking up the language. He’s trying to communicate with people, and that’s been an aid, too. The kid tries in every direction. He’s got a good knack for rating horses, but if a horse wants to take off and stampede with him, he’ll do that too. He fits all kinds of horses quite successfully. I hope the kid does good.”

Busy Belvoir giving track a boost

Howard Belvoir may not win the training title – he trailed Frank Lucarelli, 51-48, heading into the meet’s final three days – but he’s done more for the health of Emerald Downs racing than any other trainer. Belvoir sent out 292 starters through the first 79 days, an average of 3.7 runners per day. At a track where the average field size has dipped below seven per race, Belvoir’s participation has been critical.

Belvoir entered 11 horses for Saturday’s card and another seven for closing day Sunday, a welcome but not surprising development for Bret Anderson, Emerald’s director of racing.

“Howard is a guy who lives for this. He enjoys what he’s doing, and he wants to see this place succeed,” Anderson said. “He helps an awful lot. One thing about Howard, he very seldom asks for anything. He finds the races for his horses, and he’s disappointed when they don’t get in. He loves to run them.”

Schiro recovering and in good spirits

Tony Schiro, 70, a popular figure on the Emerald backside who suffered life-threatening injuries when he was trampled by a loose horse June 25, has made considerable progress in his recovery.

“I’ll be on crutches for another couple of months,” Schiro said this week. “But actually, I never was in a negative state during the whole thing, and I think that helps you heal faster. I never got depressed about it, and I think that’s helped me heal. I feel really good about myself. It will be over with soon.”

The incident began when two horses heading from the paddock to the racetrack threw their jockeys, veered onto a horse path, and broke into a sprint toward the barn area. After running about 200 yards, one horse struck a tree and was fatally injured. The other trampled Schiro, who suffered head injuries, a badly broken leg and 17 other fractures. He spent two weeks at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and then more than a month at a rehabilitation facility in Poulsbo, Wash.

“They took care of the femur, put a pin in,” Schiro said. “The pelvis, some ribs, a bone in my spine, 18 fractures altogether, and they all seemed to heal pretty good.”

Schiro, who does horse communication and body work, plans to spend the winter in Arizona. He said he hopes to return to Emerald next spring, provided he can find a horse or two to bring with him. He remains philosophical about his run-in with the wayward horse.

“When it’s all said and done, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Schiro said. “I’m not mad at anybody. I’m still alive and still in one piece. I don’t have a lot to complain about.”