Updated on 11/30/2016 1:56PM

Quinonez returns to his roots at Turfway Park

Shigeki Kikkawa
Alonso Quinonez has moved his tack from Southern California to Turfway Park, where he enjoyed good success early in his career.

Alonso Quinonez is back where it all began.

Ten years ago this winter, Quinonez was a 23-year-old apprentice with a hot hand at Turfway Park. He rode 30 winners at the 2006 holiday meet, finishing second only to Miguel Mena (42), then rode 75 winners at the 2007 winter-spring meet, finishing just one win behind Julien Leparoux and accomplishing enough as the year unfolded to be named an Eclipse Award finalist for top apprentice.

Midway through 2007, Quinonez moved to the Southern California circuit, where he has become known over the last decade as a capable journeyman. But as business stagnated in recent months – he was winless with his last 55 mounts dating to a Sept. 22 victory at Los Alamitos – he decided a change of scenery wouldn’t hurt.

Enter Jimmy McNerney, the perennial top agent at Turfway in northern Kentucky (and also the race-caller who has replaced the retired Turfway icon Mike Battaglia). McNerney booked mounts for Albin Jimenez, easily the leading rider at Turfway the last three years, but with Jimenez moving to Tampa Bay Downs this winter, he sought a suitable replacement.

Not only did Quinonez agree to move his tack for the winter, but McNerney also convinced Abel Lezcano – who also rode the Southern California circuit for about nine months with moderate success before returning to the Midwest in late September – to give Turfway a try.

When Turfway opened Wednesday for four months of winter racing, Quinonez and Lezcano both were armed with live mounts.

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“There is a shortage of horses in Southern California that makes it difficult to get good mounts,” said Quinonez, a 33-year-old native of Sinaloa, Mexico. “Turfway will be getting Instant Racing machines soon, so their purses should be getting better. I wanted to get my foot in the door early. Plus, with Jimenez moving on, it seemed like a good time to come here.”

Quinonez has two brothers, Luis and Belen, who are longtime jockeys on Midwest circuits. Together, they have won more than 5,000 races in the United States: Luis has 3,625, Belen has 831, and Alonso has 679.

Alonso has 39 graded stakes wins to his credit, including five in Grade 1 races. The first three stakes wins of his career came at Turfway during the winter of 2006-07, starting with the Prairie Bayou aboard Sidcup for trainer Walt Bindner Jr. on Dec. 16, 2006.

The first stakes of the holiday meet comes Saturday with the $50,000 Holiday Inaugural, and Quinonez has the likely favorite in Dear Elaine for trainer Charlie LoPresti.

“It’s nice to have these opportunities,” said Quinonez. “I’m excited about riding here this winter.”