x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Joel Rosario all set to make his horse racing debut in England

After Dubai World Cup and Kentucky Derby wins, Dominican jockey Joel Rosario will race Royal Ascot on Tuesday, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

In a matter of a few weeks, jockey Joel Rosario won the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby. Karim Sahib / AFP
In a matter of a few weeks, jockey Joel Rosario won the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby. Karim Sahib / AFP

At Epsom on English Derby day this month an overzealous security guard failed to recognise Silvestre De Sousa and briefly barred the Godolphin rider from entering the weighing room area.

It is something that could well happen to Joel Rosario this week at Royal Ascot, where the Dubai World Cup-winning jockey takes three rides on juvenile sprinters for Wesley Ward, the American trainer.

Rosario is the leading jockey in America this season, but when he graces the royal course for the first time on Tuesday hardly any of the sell-out crowd will recognise him, including perhaps, a few of the more elderly stewards.

The Dominican rider, 28, first made his mark on the international stage in March when partnering Animal Kingdom to victory in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse.

By his own admission he was almost a passenger in the final straight of the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) race in which Animal Kingdom powered clear of his rivals. Rosario was in agony as, although he knew he had won, he had to wait around 24 seconds to claim the biggest purse of them all.

"It seemed a long way home in the stretch," Rosario said afterwards.

On his return to America Rosario then won the Kentucky Derby, America's most famous race, on the back of setting a record for most wins at the Keeneland spring meeting. Unlike in Dubai, however, this time Rosario fully earned his slice of the Derby pie.

At Churchill Downs the wire could not come soon enough as Rosario urged Orb into the lead just before the sixteenth pole to emerge triumphant at the post, spattered with mud due to the sloppy track.

Rosario had first secured his finances for the year in Dubai, and five weeks later the prestige; never has mud tasted so sweet.

"I have been riding for 14 years," Rosario told The National on Sunday, when he was set to ride Golden Ticket in the Stephen Foster Handicap, sponsored by Abu Dhabi, back in Louisville.

"When I came to be a rider I did hope that I might one day win the Kentucky Derby but to win the Dubai World Cup as well, in just a few weeks, this is something very special to me.

"It is like a dream come true."

Rosario clearly will not admit it in public but he must have allowed himself a wry smile somewhere along the line since, as John Velazquez had been presented with a choice to ride Orb in the Derby or Verrazano, on whom he finished 14th of the 19 runners.

A week previously, it had been announced that Velazquez would ride Animal Kingdom in Tuesday's Queen Anne Stakes instead of Rosario, who has never ridden at Ascot, or even been to England.

It was an understandable decision from Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom's trainer, as Velazquez had ridden two winners for Ward at the five-day meeting in 2009 and also has experience of riding Animal Kingdom.

Rosario is unfazed at having never ridden on an undulating track and is confident that, like before the Dubai World Cup, video analysis will prove to be a solid guide.

"I've not spoken to anyone yet about riding there," he said. "I have sat down and watched the races, especially last year when Frankel ran and I know Kieren Fallon.

"My agent is working hard on getting information for me and has sent me the form. You've just got to get there and ride. It worked in Dubai."

Ward, who is based in Florida, flew in under the radar in 2009 when he became the first trainer from North America to win a race at the royal meeting.

Jealous Again won the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes by five lengths and was subsequently bought by Godolphin, while Strike The Tiger was the historic winner when taking the Windsor Castle Stakes on the opening day.

Ogermeister is in line to follow up Strike The Tiger in the Windsor Castle on Tuesday, while Sweet Emma Rose takes the Jealous Again route in the Queen Mary on Wednesday.

Ward's principal hope is No Nay Never, a colt by the emerging stallion Scat Daddy, who is set to take his chance in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes on Thursday.

Before weight problems and a growth spurt put an end to a promising career in the saddle for Ward in 1989, the 45 year old had received the Eclipse Award for leading apprentice in 1984.

Does Ward ever give Rosario any riding advice? "Wesley often gives me tips, he's a smart guy," Rosario said. "I think he is a very good trainer. When anybody tells me stuff I usually listen."

A polite "no" from a steward this week may be something entirely different, however.


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