01/21/2011 5:28PM

Eramia a surprise atop rider standings at Fair Grounds

Louis Hodges Jr.
Richard Eramia, winning the Louisiana Futurity aboard Populist Politics, had a meet-leading 41 wins entering Friday's races.

NEW ORLEANS – Albarado, Bridgmohan, and Theriot are the best-known names among the Fair Grounds jockey colony. James Graham is Mr. Steady As You Go. Rosie Napravnik and Miguel Mena are comers. And none of them is leading the meet in wins as of Jan. 21. On top of the standings is one Richard Eramia, and pretty much nobody – certainly not Eramia himself – would have expected it when the 2010-2011 season began in late November.

Eramia, 31, is one of the few Uruguayan jockeys in North America. He had a decent Fair Grounds meet in 2009-2010 and a good run over the summer at Louisiana Downs, and he has been consistently winning this Fair Grounds winter since the meet’s inception. Entering Friday night’s racing, he had 41 victories, five more than Mena and six more than Theriot and Napravnik.

“It’s a surprise for me, too,” Eramia said after fulfilling his final riding engagement on Thursday’s program. “I thought I’d have better business this year, but it’s just been growing and growing.”

Eramia grew up in the city of San Jose, and though his family had nothing to do with racing, he said he loved horses from an early age.

“In my mind, I always wanted to be a jockey,” he said.

At 11, Eramia began attending a jockey school, combining regular class work with instruction in horsemanship, and at 15 he began race-riding. Eramia’s career in Uruguay was a great success, and he said he led the country in wins for five consecutive years, getting business from the best stables. But purses in Uruguay are a pittance of those paid in the U.S.

“I won a lot of races, but I had no money,” Eramia said.

So Eramia in 2005 made the move so many riders from South and Central America have made, traveling to Florida. Working at Tampa and Calder, Eramia got a boost from trainer Pablo Andrade, latching on to enough work to remain in the U.S. and eventually settling down in Texas, where his wife and two children now reside. He began riding at Louisiana Downs in April 2009, hooking up with agent Rick Mocklin, and has risen steadily ever since.

“Richard is very smart,” said trainer Tom Amoss, who has put Eramia on two winners at the Fair Grounds meet. “He remembers horses so well. It gives him a huge advantage in races, not only with the horses he’s riding but with those he’s riding against.”

Amoss echoed a general consensus about Eramia: He’s simply a good guy.

“He treats the hotwalkers in my barn exactly the way he treats me,” he said.

Michelle Lovell, among the leading trainers here this winter, has teamed with Eramia for 10 wins at Fair Grounds.

“He’s a very hard worker, and everything good that happens to Richard, he deserves,” Lovell said. “He’s a really genuine person.”

Lovell said she has been impressed with how Eramia has adapted to riding at Fair Grounds, a track with a long stretch that rewards patience. She also noted his diligence toward improving his English.

“A couple years ago in Texas, you wondered if he knew what you were saying,” she said.

Eramia noted, “When I came here, I didn’t even know to say ‘hello.’ ”

Increased language proficiency mixed with gains on the track have opened new doors for Eramia, but he said that for now, Louisiana will remain his focus.

“I don’t know for how long, he said, “but right now I’m comfortable here.”

Howard continues hot start

Another day, two more 3-year-old winners at Fair Grounds for trainer Neil Howard. The double on Thursday’s card gave Howard’s stable 8 victories from 22 starters at this meet, and all but one of those wins have come with foals of 2008.

Chloe Kate’s win in Thursday’s seventh race, which was rained from turf to dirt, came as no surprise. Entered in Saturday’s Silverbulletday Stakes in case the Thursday race remained on grass, Chloe Kate tracked a tepid pace, took over in mid-stretch, and ran on to a 1 1/2-length win in a two-turn, entry-level allowance race, running her dirt-route record to 2 for 2. Howard said Chloe Kate, a daughter of Afleet Alex owned by Courtlandt Farm, will be pointed to the Rachel Alexandra Stakes here Feb. 19.

Howard’s other Thursday winner, Close Ally, was entered in a maiden sprint scheduled for turf, but when Thursday’s grass races were canceled in the morning, Howard figured he would scratch Close Ally to wait for a turf race. But when Howard finally reached Close Ally’s co-breeder and owner, Will Farish, told Howard to give Close Ally his shot on dirt. “He thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and run,” Howard said, and it was. Close Ally closed like a bullet, winning by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 30-1.