Hector Diaz Jr. might have launched his riding career later than most, but his maturity worked to his advantage last year as he established himself as one of the top apprentices in North America. For his accomplishments, he is a finalist for the Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice of 2017. Diaz, a 27&#45;year&#45;old from Puerto Rico, won 74 races from 697 starts during his initial season of riding, with those mounts earning more than $2.6 million. He placed second in apprentice earnings last year in North America, trailing only Southern California&#45;based phenom Evin Roman.Diaz was based on the East Coast, riding primarily in New York. &ldquo;I was a little late starting, but I think it was the right thing to do because in my mind I don&rsquo;t think like a kid, I think like a man,&rdquo; Diaz told Daily Racing Form. &ldquo;I got clear what I want and where I want to go. Everything has a purpose. This is the right moment.&rdquo; Despite the late career start, Diaz seemed destined to become a rider. His father, Hector Rafael Diaz, was a jockey, and the younger Diaz even attended riding school in Puerto Rico. But the real inspiration behind Diaz finally making the leap from exercise rider to race rider has been his little brother. Jockey Hector Miguel Diaz was paralyzed in a spill in Puerto Rico. &ldquo;That pushed me to make it,&rdquo; Hector Diaz Jr. told DRF. &ldquo;He can&rsquo;t do it. I want to do this for me, but I also want to do it for him.&rdquo;To that end, Diaz won the first race of his career on Jan. 15, 2017, at Aqueduct.