Braulio Baeza
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Biography : Panama


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Braulio in Panama
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.
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Also during his 10th year, Braulio worked his first race horse. That’s when he knew what he wanted to do with his life: to be a jockey. To be the best.
Braulio’s parents were supportive of their son’s 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!
One morning, Braulio’s 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 didn’t break. She simply refused to come out of the gate. His father had purchased a bad racehorse that couldn’t break from the gate and that’s all there was to it. Evenso, Braulito took the filly to the gate, telling his father all the while that she wasn’t going to break, the filly never broke and she wasn’t going to break now. She would stand still in the gate and make his father look silly once again. Braulito knew this filly. She didn’t 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 what’s going to happen, you don’t.
Braulio 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.
Braulio 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 wasn’t 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.
Even 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.)
In 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 Braulio’s father, introduced Braulio to a man that would later become his first agent in the States, Camilo Marin.
Camilo set up an appointment with Fred Hooper’s 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 impressed.
The 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 slight break.
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.
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