05/18/2016 11:36AM

Toledo, Acosta glad to get opportunity to ride in Preakness

Maryland Jockey Club photo
Jevian Toledo will make his Triple Crown debut aboard Awesome Speed, a longshot in the Preakness.

BALTIMORE – Jevian Toledo and J.D. Acosta have some things in common. They are from Puerto Rico and attended the Escuela Vocacional Hipica horse racing school there, came to the United States as apprentice riders with little more than a dream of success, and on Saturday will have their first mounts in a Triple Crown race.

Toledo, 21, will ride Awesome Speed in the Preakness for trainer Alan Goldberg. Acosta, 34, will be aboard Abiding Star for Ned Allard. That the horses are longshots makes little difference to Toledo or Acosta, who both said they will be riding to win.

Since beginning his career in 2013, Toledo has established himself as one of the top riders in Maryland. He finished third, two wins behind leading rider Victor Carrasco, at Pimlico last year, and then won his first riding title at the four-month Laurel Park fall meet.

Toledo knew little about horse racing before his first visit to the jockey school in Puerto Rico.

“We had horses at my house, but not for the track,” Toledo said. “When I went to the school to apply was the first time I was at a racetrack. I weighed 95 pounds. They looked at me and said that was good and accepted me.”

Awesome Speed is based at owner-breeder Richard Santulli’s Colts Neck Stables training center, not far from Monmouth Park. The only time Toledo has been aboard Awesome Speed was in the Federico Tesio Stakes, a race in which they were placed first after losing by a nose when Governor Malibu bumped them. Governor Malibu came back to finish second by three-quarters of a length to Unified in the Peter Pan last Saturday.

“Almost every time Mr. Goldberg sends a horse to Maryland, he gives me the opportunity; I am very grateful,” Toledo said. “Awesome Speed relaxed so nice for me. I think he likes the competition. When he saw the other horse, he never let him by. If the other horse had not bumped me, I do not think he was going to beat me.”

Toledo is thrilled to keep the mount on Awesome Speed in the Preakness.

“It is a dream come true for me to ride in the Preakness,” he said. “My Mom and Dad are so happy for me. They know how hard I have worked.”

In 2002, when J.D. Acosta and Gersom Rodriguez left Puerto Rico and headed to Delaware Park, Acosta was starting out as a rider and Rodriguez was trying to learn how to be an agent. They didn’t know anyone at Delaware.

“For seven days we slept on the floor in a room at the track,” Rodriguez said. “We were freezing. We were from Puerto Rico.”

Acosta won 172 races that year and has never looked back.

From the beginning, Acosta has been a top rider at Charles Town – where he has a home. He also has won six riding titles at the Timonium fair meet in Maryland. He finished second in the Parx Racing standings in 2015.

Acosta, who has won 2,931 Thoroughbred races since leaving Puerto Rico, is currently fourth in the rider standings at both Parx and Charles Town. He spends a good deal of time making the three-hour drive between tracks while riding night and day.

“I have ridden three tracks in a day sometimes,” Acosta said. “I never say no to any trainer who wants me to ride. And I never refuse to ride any horse. I like to ride races and make money.”

Acosta is looking forward to riding in the Preakness, but his goal is not just to be a participant. He said he will study the form of all the horses in the race, speak with Allard about how he wants the horse ridden, and then go out and try to ride a smart race.

“I’m happy to have the mount but I have ridden in big races before,” Acosta said. “I’m glad to be in the race but I can’t get emotional about it. I have to treat it like any other race.”

Acosta said he has come close to riding in the Preakness twice before but took off each of the horses. He had the mount on Pretension for trainer Chris Grove in early 2012 but then Grove sent the horse to Aqueduct.

“He was going to be a big longshot, and I had other horses to ride that day,” Acosta said.

Four starts later, Pretension finished 11th in the Preakness for jockey Javier Santiago.

Last year, Acosta finished a close fourth on Bodhisattva in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park for trainer Jose Corrales. But when the horse ran back in the Private Terms Stakes, Trevor McCarthy had the mount.

“I had horses to ride in Philly that day,” Acosta said.

Two starts later, Bodhisattva finished eighth in the Preakness.

“I thought, ‘Oh no, not again,’ ” Acosta said.

When word spread that the equine herpesvirus quarantine at Parx could be lifted in time for Abiding Star to make the race, Allard and owner Gil Campbell could have sought a more nationally known rider. But they decided to stay with Acosta, who is 4 for 4 on the son of Uncle Mo.

“Acosta is a seasoned rider, and all he does is win on the horse,” Alllard said. “Gil and I are very comfortable with him on the horse.”

Rodriguez admits he is excited about his rider having the mount. He also is keeping a close eye on the weather.

“I am doing my rain dance,” Rodriguez said. “His best race was when he beat older horses on a sloppy track.”