So far, no reining him in

Horse racing: Jockey Horacio Karamanos' huge success at Colonial Downs has trainers lining up for his services and tabbing him as a future star.

Horse Racing

August 03, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

When the dog days of summer descended this year, nobody in area thoroughbred racing was hotter than jockey Horacio Karamanos.

After dominating the recent five-week meeting at Colonial Downs in Virginia with 57 victories on 215 mounts and a record $1 million-plus in purse earnings, Karamanos has trainers falling over each other to obtain his services, creating a waiting line as long as a track's backstretch.

"He caught everybody's eye at Colonial, bringing in horses that were paying $30 and $40," said his agent, former rider Ben Feliciano Sr. "Everybody wants him now. It keeps the phone ringing all the time."

The native of Argentina is drawing the inevitable comparisons to Edgar Prado for his abilities to rate and relax horses and his tireless work ethic in the morning.

Maryland long has been a proving ground for jockeys who showcase their talents here, then advance to the major racing circuits in New York and California. Recently retired Chris McCarron, Kent Desormeaux and Prado all honed their skills locally before hitting the big time.

And Karamanos, 27, seems to have that type of talent and ambition.

"I don't think he's going to be with us too long," said veteran trainer Carlos Garcia, one of the first to use Karamanos after the jockey moved to Maryland from Florida. "Somebody, I can't say who, has already asked me if I can help push him out of state."

For the moment, though, Karamanos is extremely satisfied with the success he has enjoyed locally after a bittersweet experience in South Florida, where he was the eighth-ranked rider at Calder last summer before getting lost in the shuffle of the big-name jockeys - especially the New York colony - who work Gulfstream Park in winter.

"He dreams like maybe riding one day in California," said Karamanos through valet and translator Daniel Orellana. "But for now, he doesn't think that he wants to go to another track. He's still learning the system here."

The road to Maryland was a long and winding one from the suburbs of Buenos Aires, where, at age 13 and the youngest of five children, Karamanos told his skeptical father, Elias Atanasio, that he wanted to be a jockey after seeing one of the nation's top riders on a popular local television show that featured tango dancing.

"I told him, `No more soccer,' " said Karamanos. "I was short and most soccer players were big. But he didn't think I was serious."

Through an uncle who had some connections at the local track, the youngster was soon cleaning stalls, walking horses and then galloping them. He entered San Isidro jockey school to learn the trade and by 16 was riding in races.

Karamanos said he won 120 times in a record 10 months as an apprentice to obtain his jockey's license and became one of Argentina's best, reaching celebrity status. After capturing virtually every major stake in his country by 2000, his compatriots were advising him to try riding in the United States, where he had had a brief fling in 1995 at Gulfstream.

The transition was not easy. "In Argentina, the race is more slow. Everything is a long distance and you have to learn to ride more relaxed. I had to learn to ride with speed," said Karamanos, who received considerable help from Victor Centono, a countryman who also assisted Prado.

Strong physically, Karamanos' riding style still reflects that of his learning period. He waits and waits and then pounces when he instinctively feels it is the right moment, regardless of the distance.

"He seems to have a good style because he lets a horse settle before he moves," said trainer Grover "Buddy" Delp. "He's not a whoop-de-do type of rider, and he knows his way around the track. And he's got a powerful finish.

"We're fortunate to have him because we've had a whole lot of defections [notably Jeremy Rose, Ramon Dominguez and, recently, Mark Johnston] from the jockey colony here."

"He's a tremendous turf rider who has a special feel for it," added Garcia. "You can see the talent and he has a good sense of timing. He knows what's going on, and even when he wins by 10 he can tell you something you can use to improve your horse."

An ardent student of tapes of races, Karamanos is apt to work out as many as 10 horses - perhaps for 10 different trainers - in the morning. He is zealous about getting better.

"I read the program to find out who the speed is and I like to stay behind it all the time," said Karamanos. "I like to get away from the speed and wait for the right time to move."

Trainer Vinnie Blengs, Prado and Feliciano were all instrumental in bringing him to Maryland, with Feliciano signing the sponsorship required for Karamanos to work here.

Angel Cordero and Jorge Velazquez told Feliciano of his talent and "after that I didn't even doubt it," said the agent. "I had never even seen him ride in person, only on TV. He's proven to be a guy who loves to work and he has a great attitude, just like Edgar."

"I liked him from the first time I saw him," said steward Bill Passmore, at one time a dominant Maryland jockey. "He knows where he is at all times and stays out of trouble, just an all-around good rider."

It doesn't matter that somewhere in the transfer from Argentina to Florida to Maryland his first name got Anglicized - to Horatio.

Karamanos confirmed that it is spelled Horacio. "I'm leaving it just like it is," he said with a smile. "That name has been lucky."

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