David Flores remains cool in midst of hot streak

January 29, 2008 12:52 AM
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Intentionally or not, David Flores is the epitome of cool.

On the face of it, his demeanor is one of aloof indifference. Glancing at his stoic physical presence, it would be a challenge to determine whether he had just lost a $10,000 claiming race or just won the Kentucky Derby.

But looks can be deceiving. Behind that laissez faire persona lies a flame of burning competitiveness, which, at the age of 40 (his birthday is Feb. 5), has spurred him to the apex of his profession after nearly 25 years in the saddle.

Once considered "King of the Bull Ring," a title bestowed upon him for winning six straight riding titles at the five-eighths of a mile track in Pomona, California, known as Fairplex Park, David Flores has paid his dues.

By his own volition, his days as ruler of the bullring are over, although he occasionally treks back to pick up a victory or two, if the price is right. Several years ago, however, he set his sights on greater fare and abandoned that circuit for more lucrative game.

While he has never won a Triple Crown race, he did win the Santa Anita Handicap in 1997 aboard Siphon, and he has captured three Breeders’ Cup races: the 2001 Juvenile Fillies on Tempura; the 2003 Juvenile on Action This Day; and the 2004 Mile aboard Singletary. His nine Southern California riding titles include one at Del Mar (1999) and one at Santa Anita (1998-99), where at the current meet he is battling 2007 Eclipse Award winner Garrett Gomez for the riding lead.

It would be easier to find a flaw with the New England Patriots these days than with the manner in which Flores is riding.

No less an icon than Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, a stickler for success who usually tosses compliments around like man hole covers, endorses Flores as a rider of world-class quality.

"He’s a good rider," Frankel said. "The last two years he’s been riding real well. I think he’s getting the opportunities now more than ever."

Flores lost his ill-perceived tag as a speed rider years ago, in the eyes of insiders, including Frankel. "He’s been a top-class rider all along," the 66-year-old Brooklyn native said. "I’ve been riding him for years and he’s a good, all-around rider."

Behind every good jockey is a good agent, and Flores is no exception. His business is handled by Brad Pegram, son of agent Jim Pegram, who directed Flores’ career for more than a decade.

"My dad worked for David for probably 12 years, so I’ve known David since I was a kid," said Brad, who also represents Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. "I became David’s agent at Keeneland in the fall of 2005. I was in Kentucky with Mike, and David wanted to come from Southern California to ride at Keeneland. Later, I came back to California with him.

"He’s just super-talented, a very gifted and very patient rider who rides with a ton of confidence, and things are going real well. They’re all very good attributes."

Flores, typically, is wont to dismiss his role in his foray to the top.

"Good horses," the Tijuana native said when asked what has played a major role in his move to center stage. "It helps, too, if you’ve been here for a long time, and I’ve been here for a long time. I think every rider waits for that little rush, the boost that puts you over the top. But getting the right horses, that’s the key."

At the moment, two of the best ones for Flores are the undefeated Triple Crown hopeful, El Gato Malo, and the undefeated filly, Zenyatta.

"My agent is doing a fabulous job," Flores said. "I’ve been working hard and all of a sudden, trainers are putting me on horses."

And they leave the riding to Flores.

The homestretch

”¡ The Man Upstairs smiled upon Santa Anita Saturday, miraculously bathing it in sunshine after heavy rains forced it to cancel the previous two days of racing despite the best efforts of all involved to try and resurrect its synthetic Cushion Track which does not drain nor dry properly. Santa Anita, which had canceled six days of racing at press time, was in the process of amending its surface with the Australian-based Pro-Ride polymer binder. Management is confident that would "fully address our drainage problems and promote a kinder racing surface for the remainder of this meet (which ends April 20)." After that, Santa Anita is likely to completely replace the main surface and pull the plug, because its present version of Cushion Track already is drain dead.

”¡ Nashoba’s Key, second as the 7-10 favorite in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf, could have a new rider in her next start.

"I think she was victim of a slow pace and maybe a little bit of a misjudged ride," said trainer Carla Gaines, referring to the ride by Joe Talamo, who was beaten a length and a quarter by 2-1 second choice Quite a Bride. Asked if a change was contemplated, Gaines said she would have to discuss that with owner Warren Williamson.