04/15/2013 4:57PM

Hawthorne notes: New rider Esquivel making his way


STICKNEY, Ill. - Emmanual Esquivel had never ridden in a race before the Hawthorne meet began in mid-February, but it took Esquivel almost no time to hit his stride. Less than two months into his career, Esquivel, still with a seven-pound apprentice weight allowance, has gone 20 for 120 at the Hawthorne meet, tying him for third in the jockey standings here.

Esquivel, 22, was born in Guerrero, Mexico, but immigrated to Chicago with his parents when he was 8. His father worked as a groom for Chicago-based trainer Mike Reavis, and Esquivel’s uncle Cipriano Contreras is Reavis’s main assistant. Esquivel basically grew up on the Hawthorne backstretch, and used to come to work with his father. He started riding the stable pony around the barn when he was 16 or 17 and got an exercise rider’s license when he was 17, but while Esquivel said he wanted all along to become a jockey, he could not attempt to do so until straightening out his citizenship status. Last year, Esquivel was granted a U.S. visa, and, teaming up with agent Ben Allen, he launched his career this winter.

“I thought it was going to take more time, that I wasn’t fit enough,” Esquivel said. “I got tired, but not as much as I thought. I worked as many horses as I could before I started riding. I worked 16 one day for Mike [Reavis]. I couldn’t get up the next day.”

Esquivel won his first race for trainer Chris Dorris, and has won seven more for that barn, but in recent weeks his business has diversified to an impressive extent. And unlike many new jockeys, Esquivel seems at least as comfortable, if not more so, rating a horse from off the pace than going to the lead. That, he said, is the product of years of working horses for Reavis.

“I really like coming from behind, and I’m used to it,” said Esquivel. “Working horses for Mike, they made me wait behind other horses. They taught me how to relax a horse, and how to relax myself, thanks to all those times I got yelled at.”

Esquivel plans to move his tack to Arlington when the Chicago circuit shifts there next month.

** Betting at the Hawthorne meet is down sharply from last year. Through April 9, 28 days into the meet, average daily all-sources handle was just $1,651,815, a decline of 24 percent compared with the first 29 days of the 2012 spring meeting, when average daily handle was $2,164,135. Short fields have plagued the ongoing meet from the start, and a cold, wet March has delayed the start of the turf racing season.