10/19/2010 1:54PM

Rosario putting himself among elite jockeys

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Benoit & Associates
Jockey Joel Rosario is enjoying a career year with Grade 1 victories across the nation. He has at least six mounts lined up for next month’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The milestones have arrived on an annual basis for Joel Rosario.

In 2006, he moved to the United States from his native Dominican Republic and made an early impression at Golden Gate Fields, finishing second to Russell Baze in two meets there. He moved to Southern California the following year, won his first graded stakes in 2008, and last year won three riding titles in Southern California and a Breeders’ Cup race, the Sprint, on the outsider Dancing in Silks.

The 2010 season is already one full of accomplishments. He has ridden the winners of Grade 1 races at Churchill Downs, Keeneland, and Saratoga – his first stakes wins at those tracks – and has ridden several Grade 1 winners in California and won riding titles at the Hollywood Park spring-summer and Del Mar meetings. Through Sunday, he led the jockey standings at the current Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meeting.

He may add much more in coming weeks. Rosario, 22, has at least six mounts lined up for the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5-6, including favored Blind Luck in the BC Ladies’ Classic, and a victory or two that weekend could boost him from his current fourth-place position on the national earnings list and into the conversation for the Eclipse Award as the year’s outstanding rider.

Such an accomplishment is in the back of his mind.

“This year, I started to win bigger races,” he said. “You have to win the bigger races to have a chance to be number one.

“You have to continue to do well. Now is the time. . . . Maybe I can get to the awards.”

Rosario will know by the evening of Friday, Nov. 5 how his Breeders’ Cup weekend is unfolding. That is when will try to guide the 3-year-old filly Blind Luck to her sixth stakes win of 2010 and a chance to clinch the division championship.

Aside from Blind Luck, Rosario’s list of expected mounts includes Champ Pegasus in the Turf, Jordy Y in the Juvenile, Sidney’s Candy in the Mile, Supreme Summit in the Sprint, Switch in the Filly and Mare Sprint, and possibly Harmonious in the Filly and Mare Turf.

He picked up the mount on Blind Luck from rival California jockey Rafael Bejarano during the summer and has ridden Blind Luck to wins in the Delaware Oaks, his first stakes win there, and the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 21. His only loss aboard Blind Luck was a second in the Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing on Oct. 2, when Blind Luck closed well but finished a neck behind Havre de Grace. Blind Luck carried 124 pounds, while Havre de Grace carried 114.

“She finished great in the last quarter-mile,” Rosario said of Blind Luck. “The other filly ran too good the other day. The 10 pounds is a lot of difference.”

Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Blind Luck, has given Rosario mounts on an increasing number of leading horses in the last year, such as the stakes winners City to City and Dakota Phone. He saw Rosario during the rider’s early days in the United States at Golden Gate Fields when his English was limited and his ability not as refined. As Rosario’s confidence has grown, so has Hollendorfer’s desire to use the rider.

“I think you have to have someone who believes they can do the job, and you have to have the talent to use that in the big races,” Hollendorfer said.

Harmonious, trained by John Shirreffs, gave Rosario his first Grade 1 win at Keeneland last Saturday in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. She would be a contender in the Filly-Mare Turf, if she runs.

For Rosario, winning such races and having a strong roster of mounts for the Breeders’ Cup were a dream when he moved to this country.

“Hopefully, I can win it and we can get everything we can,” he said. “I don’t feel any pressure. I always do my job. To be on top is good because you have more chances to ride better horses. This is a good thing.”

There was little pressure on Rosario when he rode in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup. This year will be different. His reputation has grown and so have expectations.

“It’s kinda cool,” he said. “This is what I wanted when I came to America. This is the place that everyone wants to be.”