By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn, is still impressed by the mere presence of jockey Jorge Carreno at his little track on the prairie.
After all, there was a time, not long ago, when Carreno reached the pinnacle of thoroughbred racing. Fact is, the 38-year-old veteran of 19 racing seasons who currently leads the Downs’ jockey standings, has seen just about everything there is to see in the racing business. Including a Triple Crown race from the back of one of the entrants.
“Jorge won his 1,500th race the other day,” said Dunn. “That’s a big milestone in any jockey’s career. Most don’t get anywhere near that. That tells you his abilities. Man, he was in the Preakness. That’s just incredible. That’s the Triple Crown. That’s a bucket list item for every jockey.”
In the first race of the night last Wednesday, Carreno rode trainer Lise Pruitt’s Amy On Tour ($3.90) to victory in a $9,500 Waiver Claiming race at the Downs for owner Arnason Farms. With that win, Carreno recorded the 1,500th victory of his near-20-year career. He went to win two more races that night – the third aboard Gone Long Gone for trainer Jared Brown and the sixth on Wolowitz for trainer Jerry Gourneau – to reach 1,502 and take a commanding lead in the 2021 jockey standings.
Carreno now has 12 wins, 12 seconds and five third-place-finishes in 46 starts this spring and has already earned $141,131 for his owners.
Pretty good for a veteran rider who was nursing an injury when ASD came calling last month.
“We were first aware of Jorge when he was a top tier rider in Alberta for one of the leading barns at that time, Robertino Diodoro, who has gone on to become one of the leading trainers in the United States,” said Dunn who was part of the team that brought Carreno to Winnipeg. “We knew right away that if a jockey had already been awarded access to a top-flight barn like the Diodoro barn, then they can seriously horseback. He put up very strong numbers in Alberta. We were also aware of him riding in the United States, specifically in Arizona. So, when a former jockey agent and trainer at Assiniboia Downs, Mike Pierce, who is now at Canterbury, brought him to us, we listened.
“We had an incentive program out there to acquire jockeys based on the travel restrictions on the Caribbean that imploded our planned jockey colony. Mike Pierce, who has always kept his eye on Assiniboia Downs and we hope will return one day with his horses, was able to talk to Jorge and we were able to put a deal together to get him up here. The fact he was tied to the Diodoro barn was a big plus, a big checkmark on his skill. He’s a great addition to the colony and he elevates the skill in the room. He’s a very professional rider.”
Even though he grew up around horses, Jorge was the first member of his family to become a jockey. In fact, he got comfortable on horseback by riding horses and donkeys that his father, Dionicio, owned in Cocula, Mexico, near Guadalajara.
“Instead of driving a car, we would be driving a donkey or a horse to get stuff,” Carreno once told the Baltimore Sun.
His father eventually moved to the States to be a groom and Jorge, one of Dionicio’s seven children, followed him to Fairmount Park in Illinois. His younger brother, also named Dionicio, is now a jockey in Mexico City.
Most of Carreno’s career has been spent in the west. In fact, it was at Sunland Park in New Mexico where he first rode a horse named Conquest Mo Money as a two-year-old. That horse eventually reached the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, at Pimlico in Baltimore and Carreno was aboard.
“I raced in the Preakness in 2017,” Carreno said this week. “We finished fifth. That was a big race, the biggest race for me ever. That was exciting.”
Carreno first rode professionally in the United States in 2002. At first, he accompanied his dad to meets at Fairmount, Hawthorne and Arlington parks but when his father returned to Mexico after one of those meets, Jorge stayed behind, working the barns, galloping when he came of age and then riding. His first winner back in 2002 was a 30-1 longshot named Never Chance at Fairmount Park. Since then, he has raced just about everywhere.
“I wasn’t a jockey in Mexico, I started in the United States,” said Carreno, who has three daughters with his wife Maria. “I went from Mexico to Illinois with my father and I started racing at Fairmount. I’ve ridden at more than 17 tracks. All the California tracks – Santa Anita, Del Mar, Golden Gate — Emerald Downs in Seattle, Oak Lawn, Fairmount, Canterbury, Alberta, a lot of tracks.”
He picked up his first graded stakes win in the 2012 Canadian Derby at old Northlands Park aboard Toccetive. He’s been a three-time champion jockey, twice at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, and he won his 1,000th race at Turf Paradise. However, in the last couple of years, he’s battled some injuries and was looking for a new challenge when ASD came calling.
“I was injured and at home and I got a call from my friend Mike Pierce who told me to come here to Winnipeg,” Carreno said. “I asked him what it was like here and he told me I should come and will get to ride to some good horses.
“So, I called here and I talked to them and they told me that they would like me to come here and so I’m here. It’s been a good place to make a comeback.”
His agent in Winnipeg is former four-time Downs jockey champion, Tim Gardiner, a great judge of both jockeys and horses. He was also involved in bringing Carreno to ASD.
“I had heard from Mike Pierce, a former agent here who is now training at Canterbury (Shakopee, Minn.) that this guy was a very serious rider,” said Gardiner. “Jorge had some question marks, especially about getting hurt and having such a long layoff, but all we did was look at his numbers and I looked at some videos. He was the real deal. This guy was a stable rider for Robertino Diodoro, that’s a huge accomplishment. There is nobody even close to that here.
“When Jorge came here, he’d been on a couch for nine months. But when he got here, he did every single thing I asked. Guys with his credentials often don’t like to work hard, but Jorge has done everything I expected from him. He meets me every day at the gate at 5:45 a.m. and we go directly to Jerry Gourneau’s barn and we get on some horses for morning workouts and then we make our rounds at all the barns. People like Jorge. He’s an easy-going guy who is also a world-class rider with a load of talent.
“But there is no way Jorge and I are successful if we’re not riding live horses for top trainers like Gourneau, Jared Brown, Deb and Marvin Buffalo and Tom Gardipy. All these trainers are hands-on and they really care about their horses.”
In the meantime, Carreno seems happy here.
“Yeah, I like it here,” he said. “The trainers have been very nice to me. They’ve treated me right, you know. I’ve been on some nice horses. I like the track and I’m really, really comfortable on this track. I like being here.”