05/04/2012 12:32PM

Hastings: Three new riders look to make an impact


VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The addition of Jeff Burningham, Ryan Pacheco, and Enrique Gonzalez has added considerable depth to the local jockey colony at Hastings.

Burningham is the most established of the three. He started his career at Hastings in 1999 and since then has won 672 races and $12,253,977, most of it earned in Louisiana. His best year came in 2005, when he won 105 races and his mounts earned more than $2.1 million. He won more races in 2004, 118, but his earnings were less at $1.5 million. In 2005, he rode Military Major to a win in the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park and a fourth-place finish in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

When Burningham first arrived at Hastings he was very green but with a lot of help from Frank Barroby, a Canadian Hall of Fame jockey and trainer, and a lot of hard work, Burningham has forged a successful career.

“I’ll be the first to admit I was horrible,” recalled Burningham. “But Frankie taught me from the ground up. I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had without his help.”

Burningham was also smart enough to listen when five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bill Hartack offered advice. Hartack, who died in 2007, was a steward at Louisiana Downs. Burningham has ridden there since 2004.

“He was very helpful,” said Burningham. “You could always learn something from him.”

Burningham’s career came to an abrupt halt in 2008 when he crushed his L1 vertebra. The injury wasn’t caused by a horse, though. He fell out of a tree he was trimming at his house.

“It was a hard time,” said Burningham. “I was paralyzed from the waist down for three months. I was very depressed. Going from being a very active person one minute, and not being able to do anything 20 seconds later was unbelievably hard. One of the things I had to do was just learn how to walk again.”

Through therapy and a lot of support from his wife, Lacie, Burningham has made a full recovery.

“I am pain free now,” he said. “I came back to ride in 2009 it was kind of like occupational therapy. It really helped strengthen my legs and lower body quite a bit.”

Burningham was out of business for 16 months and when he returned to the saddle and took up where he left off, winning 48 races.

The reason Burningham is back at Hastings is to support Lacie through a difficult time. Her mother, trainer Kathy O’Donnell, became ill and died in the winter.

“I wasn’t really planning on riding at Hastings this year but Lacie came here to be with her mom and I came up to help her,” said Jeff. “There is a lot of stuff to deal with so I decided to stay and ride at Hastings for the year.”

Because he didn’t commit to riding at Hastings until the meet was underway, Burningham has only ridden five horses and all were longshots. Frank Barroby said he thinks it won’t be long before people realize how good a rider Burningham really is.

“He has been riding with some really good riders in Louisiana,” said Barroby. “I don’t bet very often but I bet on Jeff a couple of times and he gave some great rides. He can really finish on a horse. He just needs a few live mounts and people will see what kind of rider he is. You know, he’s had a great career and he deserved it. He really worked hard at becoming a polished rider and it paid off.”

2011’s top apprentice returns

Ryan Pacheco returns to Hastings after winning a Sovereign Award for the leading apprentice in Canada last year. Pacheco was the leading apprentice at Hastings in 2010 and after the meet ended he went to Woodbine, where he had immediate success. He stayed in Ontario in 2011, winning 33 races for more than $1 million in earnings and was honored with the Sovereign.

“I was pretty thrilled to win the Sovereign,” said Pacheco. “It was a real honor, especially considering I have only been riding a few years.”

One of the reasons Pacheco came back to Hastings is that he feels he is still learning and will be able ride more horses here.

“There are about 50 riders at Woodbine and it is tough to get mounts,” he said. “I’ll have more opportunities here and I also like Vancouver. There is a lot more to do in the way of outdoor stuff. When it opens I’ll probably do the Grouse Grind at least once a week.”

Pacheco was referring to a local mountain trail that is a serious test for anyone’s fitness level.

Gonzalez among best riders in Mexico

Enrique Gonzalez joins a list of riders at Hastings that cut their teeth riding in Mexico. He also rode in Northern California, where he won 26 races in 2010. Statistics are hard to come by for Mexico but Gonzalez estimates he won about 1,000 races there.

Local rider Amadeo Perez, also from Mexico, thinks the estimate is correct.

“He is one of the top riders there,” said Perez. “He rode the best horses and he won a lot of races.”