Baeza arrived in the U.S. in March of 1960. Mr.Fred Hooper, the man
who held Braulios contract and sponsored his immigration, immediately
put him to work at Keeneland in the mornings exercising horses. On
opening day of Keeneland, 1960, Braulio won the first race on the
card on his first mount in the U.S. on a filly named, ironically,
Foolish Youth (that which Braulio had obviously bypassed). He rode
three horses that day and won on two of them.His biggest win that
first year was the Washington Park Futurity at Arlington on a 2-year-old
colt named Crozier. In early 1961, Braulio picked up the mount on
Jacob Shers Sherluck when Eddie Arcaro decided to ride another
horse in the Bluegrass Stakes, the prep for the Kentucky Derby.Even
though Braulio was only
supposed to ride for Mr. Hooper under the terms of his contract,
Mr. Hooper occasionally allowed Braulio to ride for other trainers;
in the case of Sherluck, the trainer was Harold Young. Sherluck
won the Bluegrass Stakes under Braulio and Eddie Arcaro suddenly
decided he wanted the mount back on Sherluck in the Kentucky Derby.
Braulio rode Crozier in the Kentucky Derby for Mr. Hooper and finished
second to Carry Back, ridden by Johnny Sellers. Sherluck was no
where in sight. Carry Back then won the Preakness. Crozier finished
third. Sherluck finished nowhere. Eddie Arcaro didnt want
to ride Sherluck anymore and went in search of a different mount.
As Crozier was not running in the Belmont, this situation freed
Braulio from his contractual duties with Mr. Hooper and he picked
up the mount again on Sherluck for Mr. Young. And the rest, as they
say . . .
first time Braulio ever rode in the Belmont Stakes, he won it on Sherluck
at 65-1 and paid a record $132.00. After the race, President Eisenhower
made the presentation giving Braulio Baeza one of the great thrills
of his life. Surprising Braulio, Mr. Eisenhower spoke to the young
Panamanian in his native Spanish tongue. It turned out that the ex-president
had spent time in Panama building the Canal and, in the meantime,
had learned to speak Spanish. America, what a country.
in the U.S. was not all congratulations and hoopla for Braulio Baeza
at this time. He was lonely. His wife Carmen, and their new baby daughter,
was still in Miami waiting for the word to move up North. He had no
one to speak with at night in his hotel rooms and trailers, so he
watched hours and hours of television. Quiz shows, Jack Benny, the
Honeymooners, and I Love Lucy were some of his best English classrooms.
On the track was no easier, even though he will tell you everyone
was nice to him. Many of the other riders resented a little punk kid
coming in from Panama and taking their best horses away from them.
It was very useful that Braulio had learned to ride in Panama, which,
by the way, is also where Manuel Ycaza had learned to ride. (The famous
Panamanian Jockey School was not in existence when these two took
up their trade.) Braulio knew how to protect himself in a race and
also to give as good as he got. One leading rider kept calling him,
Kid, kid, hey, kid and trying to intimidate him in a race
every chance he got. One race, Braulio had this leading rider in tight
quarters on the rail and wouldnt let him out. The leading rider
was crying, Braulio! Braulio! After that day, the other
riders in the jockeys room backed off the new Hispanic kid and
were more tolerant and respectful.
soon, Braulio learned how to speak and understand more in English
than just, Yes.
In 1963, he rode Darby Dan Farms Chateaugay to victory in the
Kentucky Derby and the Belmont for J.P. Conway. He finished second
in the Preakness. Two days before the Preakness, Chateaugay ran off
with the exercise boy for two miles at full speed. On race day, Braulio
found the colt to be a bit sluggish, but still managed to get the
horse to finish second.
years of 64 and 65 are when Braulio really took off and
began consistently riding the better horses. In 1964, Bold Lad won
the honors for best two-year-old colt and Queen Empress, the best
two-year-old filly. In 1965, a lanky, slightly cantankerous chestnut
colt came along in the form of a horse called Buckpasser, trained
by Eddie Neloy for Mr. Ogden Phipps. Buckpasser won Champion two-year-old
colt and best two-year-old overall. Roman Brother won the title for
Horse of the Year in 1965. Moccasin was chosen Champion two-year-old
filly. Alas, Graustark, the best horse Braulio ever rode and affectionately
calls, The Machine made his regrettably brief appearance
that year as well.
year 1965 also brought other changes to our little, skinny kid from
Panama. First of all, he was no longer a little, skinny kid. Skinny,
yes. From Panama, yes--but no longer wet behind the ears. He was now
25 years old. His English had improved enough to know that when he
told his agent, Camillo Marin, something in Spanish, Camillo would
not always translate it correctly into English for the other people.
He also began to scrutinize his contract with Mr. Hooper. Previously
when the contract negotiations would come up every year, Braulio would
blindly sign whatever was put in front of him. Now, in 1965, he began
asking questions. He asked Mr. Hooper if he could move his tack to
New York for the Spring and Summer meets. Mr. Hooper agreed. Braulio
thus made all the arrangements to move into New York. He lined up
his clients and an apartment for his family in New York. However,
when the meet at Hialeah ended and Braulio prepared to journey to
New York, Mr. Hooper put his rather large foot down and refused to
let Braulio go to New York. Mr. Hooper had changed his mind and wanted
Braulio to come to Keeneland and Churchill with him. Now it was Braulios
turn to refuse.
disobeyed and went to New York anyway. In the words on the Statue
of Liberty: he was yearning to be free. Mr. Hooper slapped an injunction
on him which stopped him from riding and Braulio missed many important
races that Spring. He did, however, make a very important association
with a new agent, Lenny Goodman.
Mr. Hooper finally had his day in court and Braulio was ordered to
buy his contract back from Mr. Hooper for $100,000. (Were talking
1965 here, folks.) With money of his own and that borrowed from friends,
Braulio did just that and began riding as a free contractor. And the
rest, as they say . . .
1966, Buckpasser won 13 races in a row with Braulio, thus clinching
the Horse of the Year honors. Among the list of victories with Buckpasser
was the Travers Stakes, which Braulio won for the first time that
year. He also rode Successor, Lady Pitt, Open Fire, and Assagai--all
Champions in 1966. Beginning in 1965, Braulio made the list as the
leading money-earning jockey in the nation four years in a row.
remainder of the 60s are riddled with Champions such as Vitriolic,
Queen of the Stage, What a Pleasure, Gallant Bloom, Dr. Fager, Arts
and Letters and Hawaii, among others.
horses of the 70s include Reviewer, Numbered Account, Key to
the Mint, Ack Ack, Shuvee, Susans Girl, Optimistic Gal, Talking
Picture, Foolish Pleasure, Honest Pleasure, Dearly Precious and Wajima.
August of 1972, Braulio made the trip to England in order to ride
a horse named Roberto in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York. Lester
Piggott was the usual rider but he opted to ride another horse in
the race and Robertos owner, Mr. Galbreath of Darby Dan Farm,
who also owned the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club, called on Braulio
to take the mount. Roberto was named after the great baseball player,
accepted the offer and traveled to England a few days in advance so
he could get on Roberto before the race and to acclimate himself to
the new time zone. After galloping Roberto across the English countryside
the morning of the race, Braulio told Mr. Vincent OBrien, the
trainer, that Brigadier Gerard had better be a pretty good horse if
he was to beat Roberto on this day.
Gerard was the English powerhouse that year. He was unbeaten and not
expected to lose this race either.
taking Roberto to the front early on, the team of Roberto and Braulio
went unchallenged for most of the race. Roberto was simply just galloping
along at his own leisure. The rest of the field, made up completely
of English riders, took their horses off Robertos pace and didnt
move until the half-mile pole. Braulio saw the rest of the pack advancing
toward him around the 5/16 and waited patiently. Brigadier Gerard,
the Champ, tried to catch them in the stretch but to no avail. Braulio
turned on the steam and that was that.On his way back to the unsaddling enclosure, Braulio tipped his helmet
to the Queen of England herself, who waved at him in appreciation
of a job well done. Whodve thought a skinny, little kid
from Panama . . .
won his first official Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 1972,
the first year they were instituted. He won his second Eclipse as
outstanding jockey in 1975. East-West Stables Wajima, trained
by Steve DiMauro, was the colt which was purchased for a record $600,000
in 1973. He lived up to the hype, winning Champion three-year-old
colt and the Travers, among other notable races. He was deemed too
valuable to keep racing and was retired to stud early in his racing
In 1973 and 1974, Braulios battles with his weight began to
be problematic. He was not able to ride as many horses because he
could not make the weight. Several times he considered retiring but
then another good horse would come along and this would give him incentive
to continue battling his weight.
Late in 1974, Braulio found a nutritionist that helped him with his
weight issues and he was in control of his weight once again.
1975, Braulio rode Foolish Pleasure in the Great Match Race against
the ill-fated Ruffian. The strategy planned for the race against the
filly was easy. In all her prior victories, Ruffian had never been
seriously challenged right out of the gate. Leroy Jolley, the trainer,
and Braulio planned to press Ruffian from the get-go. Jacinto Vasquez
was aboard Ruffian and when Foolish Pleasure and Braulio came out
of the gate, Jacinto stepped on the gas and went with the colt, head-to-head.
Mid-way down the backside, there was a sharp crack, like wood snapping.
All of a sudden Ruffian disappeared from beside Foolish Pleasure.
Braulio yelled, Hold on! to Jacinto. There was nothing
to be done at that point but to finish the race and so Braulio galloped
his colt across the wire. It was the most bitter of his victories.
Ruffian and Jacinto did not go down, but her leg had been broken and
she had to be destroyed after surgery could not repair it.
Summer of 1976, at the height of the Saratoga meet, Braulio woke one
morning to discover that after having jogged in his plastic suit and
reduced the night before, he still had 8 pounds to lose before the
start of the race day. He called the Clerk of Scales and told him
that he was going to ride no longer.
Thus ended the riding career of one of the finest jockeys who ever
lived. He was pure poetry on a horse: efficient, elegant and always
spectacularly in rhythm with the horse. He won a total of 3140 races
in the United States and another 873 in his native Panama for a total
of 4013 lifetime wins.