01/13/2015 1:53PM

Van Dyke ready to make jump to journeyman

Shigeki Kikkawa
Drayden Van Dyke, 20, will begin riding as a journeyman on Monday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – This weekend, jockey Drayden Van Dyke will have near-constant reminders of the changes and milestones in his brief riding career.

In Thursday’s eighth race at Santa Anita, Van Dyke rides Unusually Big in an otherwise nondescript maiden-claiming race. It will be his final mount as an apprentice jockey.

Friday, Van Dyke will be on a plane to South Florida where he is widely expected to receive the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding apprentice jockey of 2014 on Saturday evening.

Back at Santa Anita on Monday, Van Dyke will ride as a journeyman for the first time.

Van Dyke, 20, says he is ready for the transition.

:: 2014 ECLIPSE AWARDS: Full list of finalists and profiles

“I don’t think it will be much change,” Van Dyke said. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that my business will be the same. They tell me to keep working hard.”

Since arriving in Southern California in late spring of 2013, shortly after graduating from high school in Arkansas, Van Dyke has been on the go. He began riding at Hollywood Park in November 2013, having served as an exercise rider and overall stable hand for trainer Tom Proctor, with whom he is closely allied.

Van Dyke rose to prominence last year, with 54 wins at Santa Anita from late December of 2013 through June. He won his first riding title, which came at the Los Alamitos July meeting, and won another Los Alamitos title in September.

Van Dyke’s first stakes win came at Del Mar in August, and his first graded stakes win came in the Grade 3 Pucker Up Stakes on the Proctor-trained Sistas Stroll at Arlington Park in September. All of that gave Van Dyke name recognition across the nation, and the role of leading apprentice. It is a distinction he has coveted.

“It was always one of my goals when I first started to be an Eclipse Award winner,” he said last weekend. “To be the favorite, to maybe win, it is really cool.”

Van Dyke is eligible to ride as an apprentice jockey through Sunday, but recently dropped an appeal of a three-day suspension for a riding infraction at Del Mar in November. The revised suspension dates are Friday through Sunday.

Van Dyke begins Thursday’s program with 195 career wins, slightly fewer than his goal of 200 victories as an apprentice. It was not for a lack of trying.

Van Dyke rode almost daily in the last months of 2014. From late October through December he rode on weekdays at Turf Paradise, winning 22 races from 89 mounts at the Phoenix track. By comparison, he has four wins from 57 mounts at the Santa Anita meeting, which began Dec. 26.

“I’m happy with my year,” he said. “It turned out really well. I was on a roll, it seems like, the whole year. Not only here, but in Phoenix, too.”

In the jockeys’ room, he credits support from Hall of Fame riders Gary Stevens and Mike Smith. Van Dyke has lived with Smith in recent months.

“Gary Stevens took me under his wing,” Van Dyke said. “Mike kind of came into play, kind of a big brother and little brother. He’s been through it all and seen it all. I’m very lucky to be around him and get to ride with him.”

Van Dyke and Smith shared a residence at Del Mar last summer when Van Dyke learned of the suicide of his father, Seth Van Dyke, a former jockey. When Drayden Van Dyke began riding, he would speak frequently about racing with his father.

“It’s really tough not being able to talk to him,” Van Dyke said. “I try not to think about it. Being around the horses and staying busy, you don’t think about it. I’ve never had a death in the family before.”

His father will be on his mind this weekend in Florida, and on Monday when he resumes riding at Santa Anita. His career will change, and there are goals to achieve as a journeyman.