Braulio Baeza, the eldest of three boys, was born in a hospital in
Panama City, Panama on March 26, 1940, to Carlos and Eulogia Baeza.
At age 5, Braulio was already a regular among the cats, mice
and horses under the shed rows of Hipodromo Juan Franco, outside Panama
City. Several of the trainers used the lightweight kid to tack walk
recuperating horses around the shed rows, enabling Braulio to develop
a love and a feel for the horse at a very tender and impressionable
age. By the age of 10, he was galloping horses on the racetrack
itself and breaking horses out of the gate.
during his 10th year, Braulio worked his first race horse. Thats
when he knew what he wanted to do with his life: to be a jockey. To
be the best.
Braulios parents were supportive of their sons interest,
as his father and grandfather both had been jockeys: not exceptional
jockeys, as he would become, but real jockeys nonetheless.
Wanting to ride as soon as he could, his mother told him he must graduate
high school before he started his riding career. Shortly thereafter,
he was the best student in his class. In addition, the stewards told
him he was too light to ride races, weighing just 63 pounds. He began
eating everything in site. Braulito wanted to ride!
morning, Braulios father, who had acquired a few horses and
was training again, needed him to break one of his fillies from the
gate. Braulio had ridden this filly before and knew she didnt
break. She simply refused to come out of the gate. His father had
purchased a bad racehorse that couldnt break from the gate and
thats all there was to it. Evenso, Braulito took the filly to
the gate, telling his father all the while that she wasnt going
to break, the filly never broke and she wasnt going to break
now. She would stand still in the gate and make his father look silly
once again. Braulito knew this filly. She didnt break.
The gate men loaded the filly into the gate. Braulio never believed
for one second that the filly intended to break. Everyone was poised
to spring the gate. CLANG! The bell went off, the doors sprang open
and . . . the filly broke. Braulito did not. He fell to the ground
as the filly ran out from under him. Lesson learned. Always be prepared
in the gate. Aside from the humiliation he suffered in front of his
father and the gate hands, another, more important, lesson was also
driven home: even if you think you know whats going to happen,
began his auspicious riding career at Hipodromo Juan Franco in March
of 1955, finishing an inauspicious last in his first professional
race. He quickly realized his mistake, as was his bent, and won his
first race two mounts later, the third of his career, on Choice Brand.
He was just 15 years old.
struggled as an apprentice his first year, winning only 9 races from
134 mounts, for a win percentage of 6.7. In his second year, he won
78 races from 476 mounts, for a win percentage of 16.4. It wasnt
until late in his second year as a professional jockey that he picked
up and really began to succeed. In part, this was due to a newfound
partnership with Henry White, Sr. (aka Take Away). Take Away rode
Braulio on most of his horses in 1956. Young Braulio would come back
from the race dirty and spent, all the while inquiring of Mr. White
how did he look on the horse, what could he have done differently
or better, did Mr. White watch him switch sticks and come out of the
gate, why did the horse falter in the stretch, did he look strong
finishing? Young Braulio was a student of the game, first and foremost.
He wanted to be the best.
with his ever-increasing knowledge of horses and race riding, the
16 year old Braulio had yet to win his first Stake. Another partnership
grew up the next year, in 1957, involving Carlos Eleta. Sr. Eleta
put Braulio on some very nice horses: Cadillacs, as they are known
on the racetrack. Braulio very soon won his first of many, many Stakes
in Panama. On account that Eleta was a breeder and importer of fine
horses and Braulio was becoming a fine rider of fine horses, the partnership
flourished, and in 58 and 59, as Braulio himself likes
to say, We blasted em. Winning races for Eleta and
White, as well as for the likes of the president of Panama himself,
Presidente Ernesto de la Guardia, Braulio won the riding title at
Hipodromo Presidente Remon in 58, 59 and 60. (The
racetrack, Hipodromo Presidente Remon, was named after the Panamanian
President who was assassinated at Hipodromo Juan Franco in 1955.)
1960, after having won a couple of Stakes on a horse named Monzon,
the owner offered Braulio and his new wife, Carmen, a trip to Miami
if he won the next one. Win it, he did and they were off to Miami.
The first stop in Miami was no where else but the races. In mid-March
1960, Hialeah was in full flower, replete with the ever-present pink
flamingos. Chichi Moore, a friend of Braulios father, introduced
Braulio to a man that would later become his first agent in the States,
Camilo set up an appointment with Fred Hoopers assistant (Hooper
was in Kentucky preparing his horses for the meet at Keeneland by
then) to have Braulio come out in the morning to Hialeah and work
a couple of horses for him: a try-out, if you like - an audition,
a job interview.
The assistant told Braulio to work the first horse a half mile in
49 seconds. Braulio did that. Returning to the barn, the assistant
asked the jockey how fast he went. Braulio told the assistant he went
in about 49, 49 and 1. The assistant was pleased. For the next horse,
he told the jockey to go a half mile in about 50. Braulio did that
and returned to the barn. The assistant asked him again how fast he
thought he went and the jockey replied about 50. The assistant was
vacation time over, the contingent from Panama returned home and Braulio
continued to win races at an unprecedented rate: 77 races in less
than 11 weeks, racing only 2-3 days per week, plus having taken a
A week after the vacation was over and having agreed to ride under
contract for Mr. Fred Hooper, 20 year old Braulio Baeza was on a plane
headed back to Miami to change the face of race riding forever.