09/01/2010 1:57PM

Jacinto runs away with Evangeline jockey's title


OPELOUSAS, La. – Here in the heart of Cajun Country, there is certainly no shortage of jockey lore. This summer, however, it is a native of Lima, Peru, that has had a meeting for the ages.

John Jacinto has been so dominant in the saddle that he has distanced himself by almost 50 winners from his nearest competitor in the standings. With a week remaining in the current stand, he has visited the winner’s circle 123 times, compared to 76 for longtime Evangeline regular Gerard Melancon.

Jacinto parlayed a hot streak toward the end of the Fair Grounds season in March into a quick start to the Evangeline meeting and has not looked back. In addition to a solid 23 percent win rate from 561 mounts, he has finished in the money a gaudy 55 percent of the time and his mounts have earned a meet-best $1.9 million. All this in just Jacinto’s second full season of riding locally.

“Getting off to a good start to a meet is always important,” said Jerry Rietes, Jacinto’s agent since 2005. “We won some races toward the end of the Fair Grounds season in March and some people took notice. It was also good that Evangeline started just a week after Fair Grounds ended, so we could keep things going.”

Not even a late-season spill last Saturday night that left Jacinto bruised but otherwise okay could dampen the rider’s enthusiasm for what he and Rietes have accomplished here this summer. Jacinto also is so far in front in the standings that at Monday’s Louisiana Racing Commission meeting, he dropped a planned appeal of a riding suspension handed down in July by the Evangeline stewards. He will serve a week’s suspension beginning Saturday.

“It has been a great season,” Jacinto said. “We have been fortunate to ride for a lot of different outfits. I think that it is really a credit to Jerry. He just knows so many people.”

Winning titles is nothing new to Jacinto and Rietes. The two teamed to capture the riding championship at Louisiana Downs in both 2005 and 2007. In addition, they won the Oaklawn riding crown in 2006.

Jacinto said the decision to shift his tack to Evangeline for the summer instead of riding at Louisiana Downs was not an easy one.

“The money is just as good, plus we got our foot in the door last year when we came here from Fair Grounds to ride before Louisiana Downs started later in the spring,” he said. “Once again, we got off a good start and were winning some races. We were going so good, we just decided to stay.”

After Evangeline closes Monday, Jacinto will ride at Louisiana Downs through the end of the meet on Sept. 26. After that, he may ride at Remington until Delta Downs opens in late October.

Rietes did not rule out a return to Fair Grounds for the winter but said if things are going well at Delta, that is where they will remain.