11/23/2016 11:36AM

Parx trainer Vega closes in on 1,000 wins


Parx Racing-based trainer Richie Vega, who emigrated from his native Cuba to the United States in 1980, is one of a handful of Mid-Atlantic horsemen nearing milestone victories.

Vega, 54, will begin this weekend’s races at Parx with 999 career wins.

“My family always had horses, my uncle was a jockey,” Vega said. “My father, Anibal, worked with horses in Florida, and that’s how I got into it. I started as a hotwalker.”

Vega left Florida for Pennsylvania in 1984, the year Keystone Racetrack was renamed Philadelphia Park. He took out his trainer’s license in 1992.

“A friend, Joe Fitzpatrick, told me if I got my trainer’s license, he would give me some horses,” Vega said. “Then my doctor sent me some horses, and I had two clients.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Vega had as many as 90 horses under his care. But the size of his stable shrank after he was the victim of fraud. His stable now numbers about 25.

“In 2002, I had some trouble in New York,” Vega said. “Someone stole money from me.”

A person familiar with the situation said Vega was approached by a group of prospective owners who floated a check on him, had him claim a horse, and then withdrew the balance before it was discovered that the check was worthless.

“I almost got out of the business, but a friend convinced me not to,” Vega said. “He said, ‘This is the only thing you know. What are you going to do?’ ”

Vega loves to cheer his horses on when they run. According to noted handicapper Craig Donnelly, who is part of the Equibase crew at Parx, “Sometimes on a weekday when it’s quiet, you can hear Richie snapping his fingers and yelling a horse home way up here on the roof. I kid you not.”

Vega has a 17 percent career win average. His horses have earned purses of $16.2 million.

Other riders and trainers in the region approaching milestones include:

◗ Parx and Charles Town rider J.D. Acosta, who as of Wednesday morning had won 2,994 races;

◗ Penn National and Parx rider Angel Rodriguez, who has 999 wins;

◗ Jockey Malcolm Franklin, who recently returned to Maryland and has 998 wins;

◗ Finger Lakes trainer Bruce Anderson, with 997 wins;

◗ Mountaineer Park rider Luis Quinones, with 990 wins;

◗ Paco Lopez, who is now riding in Florida, has 1,996 wins. This summer, Lopez won his fourth straight, and fifth overall, Monmouth Park riding title.