Life goes on for David Flores. No Kentucky Derby wins. No Hall of Fame. No national titles. Just a continuing flight beneath the radar on a career that began a quarter-century ago.
Flores will be 41 on Feb. 5, but he still rides like he was 25. Better even. His years of experience are invaluable, not only on horseback, but in dealing with the myriad and sometimes disingenuous personalities at the race track.
Flores is focused. Despite his lack of coast-to-coast prominence, his confidence is high, as is the support of bettors who back him at the windows. They get their $2 worth. Flores seldom turns in a bad ride, and on a circuit that is rife with rivalries, that’s saying a mouthful.
Heading into the New Year, Flores had three Breeders’ Cup wins, more than 3,200 career victories, and purse earnings approaching $130 million. Flores also boasts nine riding titles, six in a row at Fairplex Park from 1989 through 1994, but he still works hard in the mornings, where jockeys young and old build their bridges by exercising horses they hope will lead them to gold and glory in the afternoons.
In short, David Romero Flores has his act together. You can see it in his face, where there isn’t a hint of skittishness.
"I feel very good physically and mentally," Flores said. "I feel very strong, and as long as I get good horses to ride, I’m going to be competitive. In this colony of riders, that’s not too easy. But with the support I’ve been getting, I think I’m going to do well. I’m working hard and my agent (Brad Pegram, who also represents Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith) is doing a very good job. He’s got me in the right direction so, hopefully, we’ll get another good run in the New Year."
Pegram comes from a racing family, no less than three of whom currently are agents. Brad, like Flores and Smith, is comfortable maintaining a relatively low public profile. His representation of Flores and Smith is a marriage made in business heaven.
"David is extremely talented," said Pegram, who has been his agent since October 2005. "He’s a gifted rider, very versatile, with solid athletic ability. His hands are very kind to a horse. Horses relax for him and he’s very good at getting them out of the gate and into the race."
Added trainer Darrell Vienna, a long-time Flores proponent: "David’s a very good rider. I ride him because I think he’s one of the best in the country. Everybody goes through streaks, but day in and day out, David’s a very proficient rider."
With Garrett Gomez and Rafael Bejarano currently the alpha jocks in Southern California, underlings are forced to a submissive role, taking what scraps remain. Gomez just captured his third straight national money crown, with well over $23 million in purse earnings, while Bejarano recently became only the third rider to sweep five consecutive Southern California titles–Hollywood Park spring/summer, Del Mar, Oak Tree, Santa Anita and Hollywood fall–joining Chris McCarron (1983) and Patrick Valenzuela (2003).
"Southern California has always had the strongest riding colony," Flores said. "We not only have the top jockeys, but horses, owners and trainers, too. You’ve got the best here, so to be riding here is a real privilege, and I’ve been doing that for a long time. As long as I have my health and feel great, I’m going to keep doing my best."
For any athlete, winning is everything, and Flores is no exception. And, like every jockey, the big races, like the Kentucky Derby, are the ultimate goal.
"The Kentucky Derby and more Breeders’ Cup races are good targets to aim for," Flores allowed. "Even to be involved in those big races is a privilege. That’s why we’re all here, to win those kind of races. I’d like to win as many races as I can in whatever time I have left, because now I feel good and I’m riding good horses. I have no reason to quit."
To do so would be racing’s loss.
• Last week we wrote to bet with confidence on the horses of Bobby Frankel, who won five races opening week at Santa Anita, three of them stakes.
• Horses you can bet with confidence next time out: Saucey Evening from the Graham Motion barn, and Mr. Gruff, trained by Ron Ellis.