05/09/2013 12:59PM

Hastings: Fuentes at 1,500 wins and counting

Four-Footed Fotos
Frank Fuentes rides Shrug to victory in the the George Royal Stakes.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – There was a heartwarming ceremony held in the winner’s enclosure after Frank Fuentes won the fifth race aboard Go for Guinness last Saturday. His family was there to help him celebrate his 1,500th win and there was a strong, appreciative response from the crowd.

Missing was a gift management at Hastings had ordered to give to Fuentes when he reached the milestone. They knew he was going to reach the milestone this year, but Fuentes surprised them and just about everyone else when he reached it so quickly. There will be more fanfare when the gift is presented sometime in the near future.

Fuentes turned 53 recently, but he is riding like a teenager, winning races at a 30-percent clip at the meet, and his nine wins puts him in second place in the jockey standings behind Aaron Gryder. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and he first started getting on horses after he joined his older brother Jesus on a farm near San Diego in the late 1970s. He got off to a hot start when he began his riding career in Southern California in 1983.

“Probably one of the highlights of my career was winning my first two mounts for Richard Mandella,” said Fuentes. “I had been working horses for him and was very thankful that he put me on live horses for my first two races.”

Fuentes has been one of the most respected riders since he came to Vancouver in 1987. He was invited to ride in Vancouver by the late Jack Diamond, who was the majority owner of the B.C. Jockey Club, which operated Exhibition Park, now Hastings.

“I was single and riding at Santa Anita when Mr. Diamond asked me to come to Vancouver to ride,” said Fuentes. “I was a bit adventurous and thought it would be fun to see what Canada was like. Obviously I liked it here.”

He also met and fell in love with his wife, Tammy, whom he married in 1990. They have two sons, Manny, 21, and Tony, 19.

Fuentes would have easily reached the 1,500 milestone earlier in his career, but because of his family he chooses to stay home during the winter, and his mounts are limited to what he rides at Hastings.

“Obviously my family is the most important thing to me,” said Fuentes. “I didn’t want to leave when the kids were younger, and I really have no desire to go anywhere now that they’re young adults.”

His best season was in 1998, when he won 100 races and his mounts earned $1.5 million. His big horse in 1998 was Artic Son, whom Fuentes rode to victories in the B.C. Cup Classic and the Grade 3 Premiers. In the Classic, Artic Son set the track record for 1 1/8 miles that still stands today. He was trained by Cindy Krasner.

“Artic Son was a real nice horse, and I’ve been very lucky to have ridden a lot of good horses here and it’s hard to separate them,” said Fuentes. Lord Nelson, Mike K. and Regal Red were also pretty special.”

Lord Nelson was trained by Dino Condilenios, who has been a big supporter of Fuentes over the years. Fuentes has won 104 stakes in Vancouver, and a lot of his stakes winners were trained by Condilenios. His most recent stakes win for the veteran trainer was with Shrug in the $50,000 George Royal on April 28.

“Frank is the ultimate professional,” said Condilenios. “He’s hardworking and always attends to his business. He gave Shrug a perfect ride. But forget about his riding ability, he’s just a great person and we’ve become very good friends. He’s one of the good guys.”

Fuentes isn’t sure how much longer he is going to ride, but he is well prepared for his eventual retirement. He has been painting houses since 2005 and plans to make painting his full-time job when he does call it quits.

“As long as I am getting live mounts I’ll keep riding,” said Fuentes. “I started painting because I was going to have my house painted and was shocked by the quotes I was given. I had done some painting in the past and decided to do it myself. It turned out pretty good. “

Fuentes would rather look forward than back, but he is deservedly proud of what he has accomplished in his career. Including another win last Sunday, Fuentes’s mounts have earned more than $21 million.

“I’ve made a good living for my family and made a great life for myself here,” said Fuentes. “From the small guys to the big barns, everyone has been very supportive, and I’m very thankful for everything that has come my way. It was also very nice to be recognized last weekend.”

Benefit for Ned Sams on tap

A 50/50 draw will be held at Hastings on Saturday to help support trainer Ned Sams, who has been in the hospital since January with Wagners syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks the lungs and kidneys.

Sams, 55, is a third-generation trainer who began working at Hastings for trainer Dave Forster in 1976. He was an assistant to trainer Gary Demorest when Spaghetti Mouse won the Grade 3 British Columbia Derby in 2005. He took over as Spaghetti Mouse’s trainer when Demorest died in 2007, and under Sams’s care Spaghetti Mouse won the Grade 3, $110,000 Lieutenant Governors’.