jointheclub
jointheclub
homedelivery
contenttopspacer

 Features

Featured stories from our publication.  For archived features, click here.

When the field crossed the wire for the 2022 Barbara Fritchie Stakes-G3 at Laurel Park, what odds would you have gotten that next year’s winner would be:

• A South Carolina-bred filly who, at the time, was unplaced in two career starts?

• Trained by a trainer who had never won a graded stakes?

• Ridden by a jockey who had never won a graded stakes, and had won just six races in the past five years?

It would have been some parlay.

Swayin to and Fro defied those odds and then some to win the 2023 Fritchie Feb. 18 for Baxter Racing Stable, trainer Mario Serey Jr. and jockey Richard Monterrey. It was the first domestic graded stakes victory by any South Carolina-bred and moved the 4-year-old daughter of the late Straight Talking to third on the all-time South Carolina-bred earnings list. Her $476,537 are just $95,000 shy of Big Rut, atop the list with $570,488. Originally campaigned by her breeder Franklin “Goree” Smith, Swayin to and Fro was claimed by Baxter and Serey for $16,000 out of her maiden win at Pimlico last May. For her new connections, she has won eight times, four in stakes.

For Monterrey, the Fritchie represented the crescendo of a hard-fought comeback. The Venezuelan followed his father Pedro, a well-known rider in the country, into racing.

“Since I can remember, I grew up with a passion for horses. I got involved when I was 16; that’s when I started going to the track and started riding horses.”

Richard moved his tack to the United States in 2002 on the advice of his father, who wanted Richard to ride with a full year’s apprenticeship. He began at Gulfstream Park in January 2003 and won his first American race that month. Business was slow until he connected with agent Alex Prado. 

“I showed him videotape of my four wins in Venezuela, and he said, ‘You’ve got talent, so I’ll take your book.’ ”

From there, Monterrey’s career took off. He finished tied for 13th in the Gulfstream standings with 26 wins, holding his own in a colony that included Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey, Pat Day and John Velazquez. 

Monterrey found riding with such big names a great learning experience. 

“I watched them every day and tried to copy them,” he said. “I have created an ability to see them and kind of copy something they have, so I could be better. When I rode, I appreciated every single rider there. I watched them every day to pick up their skills. I knew I was in the mecca, so I tried to absorb everything I could.”

At the end of the Gulfstream season, Monterrey spent some time at the other Miami-area track, the now-defunct Calder Race Course, before traveling to the Mid-Atlantic for the spring and summer. 

“Allen Iwinski, who I knew from Gulfstream, wanted me to go to Monmouth Park and Delaware Park,” said Monterrey of the trainer. “I rode at Monmouth for about a month and a half and only won two races. Anthony Pecoraro called my agent, and asked if I could come down [to Delaware] to ride on Monmouth’s dark days. On my second week there, I rode six winners in three days.”

Monterrey got into the car with Prado and said, “We’re packing our bags and riding here.” Monterrey stayed at Delaware full-time for the rest of the summer and rode nights at Charles Town. 

Monterrey won 62 races to finish seventh at Delaware, and contended for the title of national champion apprentice jockey. A spill at Charles Town in late October cost him a month, but he finished the year with 172 wins and $2.86 million in earnings. He began riding in Maryland in September for Dale Capuano, and soon established a base.

Over the next few years, success ebbed and flowed. Monterrey won three stakes at Pimlico in October 2004 and cracked the $2 million mark in purse earnings in 2005, but soon found opportunities harder to come by. 

“I was working really hard, but I couldn’t get any opportunities,” he said. “I started getting a little heavy because, sometimes, the way we respond to not seeing your work paying off, you can get depressed, and sometimes you turn to food, others turn to drugs or alcohol. I don’t drink or do drugs, but I started eating a lot and gained a little weight. It starts to get in your mind, and you start going to dark places.”

Monterrey took a hiatus from racing in 2016. He worked construction with his father-in-law and a one-year break from racing ended up being five. Monterrey gained more weight, and the thought of a comeback slipped further from his mind even if every time he watched the races, the desire to get back in the saddle returned. 

“I started doing meditation, reading the Bible, going to church, and then I started to mature,” said Monterrey. “I decided, I have a talent, and God gave me the talent, so I’m gonna put it out there.”

A chance encounter with former jockey Elvis Trujillo, while out for a run, gave Monterrey his window to return. Trujillo had recently retired and was getting into training. He asked Monterrey about coming by the barn and getting on horses. Monterrey seized the opportunity. He began riding horses every day. The weight began to come off and when he got down to 130 pounds, Trujillo hinted at riding races. 

Monterrey got his weight down even more, declared himself ready and returned to the saddle at Pimlico May 9, 2021, and won the first race of his comeback a month later. 

After winning five races in 2021, he improved to 13 in 2022, including a stakes win aboard Wicked Prankster in the Maryland Million Turf. After an April win, Monterrey told owner/trainer Sammy Davis to think about a stakes try. They won again six days before the Maryland Million Turf, and got the job done on the front end on the big day. 

“Sammy was looking at me like I was crazy,” Monterrey said, “but I knew what I felt under me; he had a lot of talent. I was very grateful for that opportunity.”

When jockey Victor Carrasco was injured, Monterrey also got the chance to ride Cordmaker for trainer Rodney Jenkins. 

“I had gotten on Cordmaker in the mornings when Victor got hurt, and I was very excited when Mr. Jenkins gave me a shot to ride him in the afternoon,” Monterrey said. “What a cool horse.” 

With Monterrey aboard, Cordmaker finished third in the Richard W. Small Stakes at Laurel in November to pass $1 million in career earnings. 

Monterrey rode a few winners for Serey at Laurel this year, and not long afterward, the trainer asked about riding Swayin to and Fro in the morning. The filly was coming off an expectation-defying 2022 which saw her win eight times in 12 starts and capture three stakes, including the Safely Kept and Willa on the Move to conclude her season. She started the year with a second to Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Fille d’Esprit in the What a Summer Jan. 21 and sought to turn the tables in the Fritchie. 

“She’s got a really big heart, and when you have a horse like that, there’s always an evolution,” said Serey. “I knew she could win this race.”

Serey saw a potential for improvement.

“When I finished second in the What a Summer, the track at Laurel was very heavy,” he said. “At Pimlico, where I’m stabled, the track is always the same; it’s very light. No matter what happens, that track never changes. Some horses who come from Pimlico to Laurel get affected by that, and that’s why she was second. She still ran a great figure that day. Going into the Fritchie, the weather was better, they put some water into the track.”

A hot pace seemed likely with speedy shippers Pass the Champagne and Union Lake joining a field of eight including top locals Fille d’Esprit and Swayin to and Fro.

“When you understand the horse, the horse does a lot of work for you,” said Serey. “I told him to warm her up, break well, and get a good position. I saw there’d be a lot of speed; I read the pace really well.”

Swayin to and Fro broke well and led briefly before allowing longshot Liscolvin to take over. Outside, second and stalking through a quarter-mile in :22.44, the winner took the lead just after a half-mile :45.20. Still on a long hold from Monterrey, she denied favorite Pass the Champagne’s challenge on the turn and held off second choice Fille d’Esprit by a half-length at the finish after 7 furlongs in 1:23.75.

“After the race, I saw the pace, and they were really smoking out there. She was doing it really easy,” Monterrey said. “I was trying to keep her relaxed and wait until the top of the stretch to make her run. I got to know her pretty well. From the first time I got on her, I was like, ‘Man, that filly can run.’ The main thing was, just wait as long as you can, and don’t make her switch leads, because she does that by herself.”

Monterrey couldn’t help but think of the path he took to the winner’s circle.

“The feeling of winning was indescribable,” he said a week later. “I couldn’t ask to give her a better ride. I’m so honored and thankful for the opportunity. Mario took a shot, and I was grateful to get the job done for Mario and the owners. To this day, I’m still so filled with joy that I got the job done and everybody got the win.”

The Fritchie was the first graded stakes victory for horse, owner, trainer and jockey as Swayin to and Fro won for the ninth time in 16 career starts. 

 

Laurel Park Notes

 

Laurel also hosted four non-graded stakes on the Feb. 18 card. New York invader Stonewall Star set the pace and drew away impressively to win the Wide Country for trainer Horacio De Paz and jockey Angel Cruz. It was the third stakes win for Barry K. Schwartz’s New York-bred filly, following victories in the Key Cents and Franklin Square at Aqueduct. . . Maryland-bred Coffeewithchris prevailed in the Miracle Wood by 11⁄4 lengths over 1-2 favorite Prince of Jericho. This was the third showdown between the two, with Coffeewithchris taking the Heft, and Prince of Jericho winning the Spectacular Bid. Coffeewithchris is trained by John Salzman Jr., who also co-owns him with Fred Wasserloos and Anthony Geruso . . . Pennsylvania-bred Nimitz Class went gate-to-wire to win John B. Campbell Stakes, for his second consecutive stakes win at Laurel. He previously won the Robert T. Manfuso Stakes Dec. 30 for owner/breeder Tom Coulter, trainer Bruce Kravets and jockey Jevian Toledo . . . Brittany Russell trainee Hybrid Eclipse rallied four wide and drew off to win the Nellie Morse for her third stakes win at Laurel. She previously won the Caesar’s Wish and the Thirty Eight Go Go last year . . . Two jockeys won their first mainland American races in February in Maryland. Jorge Hernandez, a native of Chile, won with Queen Cadence Feb. 12 for countryman Claudio Gonzalez. Luis Rivera Jr., originally based in Puerto Rico, won aboard Anthony Farrior-trained Beneath the Stars Feb. 20, Rivera’s 19th birthday. Axel Concepcion, who turned 18 March 16, came in from Puerto Rico to win his first U.S. start at Fair Grounds in January, then traveled to Maryland, winning aboard Shinelikeadiamond for trainer Phil Capuano his second day riding at Laurel Feb. 25. Launching his career on Jan. 1, he’s winning at a 23 percent clip. Concepcion and Rivera both graduated from the Escuela Vocacional Hipica Jockey School in Puerto Rico . . . Fellow Puerto Rican Jeiron Barbosa won five races March 5. He swept the first three races of the day, completed the grand slam in race six with Lady Jean for Jonathan Maldonado and earned the five-bagger in the eighth aboard Jerry Robb trainee Grass Cutter.

contenttopspacer

Archives | Features

Click here to view our online Featured Stories archives.

The Mill Leaders