01/19/2010 12:00AM

Reyes honored as top apprentice


During his 42-year career as a jockey agent, Tony Matos has handled a slew of outstanding talent, including Hall of Fame riders Laffit Pincay Jr. and Angel Cordero, along with Corey Nakatani when he was a rookie and Frank Lovato Jr., who won the Eclipse Award as the leading apprentice in 1980.

So when Matos calls 20-year-old Christian Santiago Reyes "the best apprentice I ever had," it's quite a compliment. Reyes was named the champion apprentice jockey of 2009 at Monday's Eclipse Awards.

"I won't take an apprentice unless he's outstanding," said Matos. "And he is an exceptional apprentice."

Reyes, whose older brother Victor Santiago rides in New Jersey, began his career in his native Puerto Rico.

Reyes spent two years learning his craft at a jockey school, where one of his classmates was Eclipse finalist Luis Batista. Reyes's career was stalled temporarily when he broke his arm in a spill.

Reyes arrived in the United States last January and won at Gulfstream Park with his second career mount. He had modest success at Churchill Downs's spring meet before coming to Southern California, where he has flourished.

"He rides for everybody," Matos says, ticking off the names of trainers such as John Sadler, Bob Baffert, and Richard Mandella. "They all like him. I get not one complaint about him."

Reyes rode his first winner at Hollywood Park in June, and wound up as the leading apprentice at that meet and at Del Mar.

In 2009, Reyes was by far the leading money-earner among apprentices with $2,390,718 million and ranked fifth in wins with 93.

Reyes will retain his status as an apprentice until May.