Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has nothing on Team Maldonado when it comes to happy
holiday endings.

A year ago, jockey Edwin Maldonado and his agent, Vic Lipton, were on the outside looking in trying to get a foot in the door on arguably the nation’s most competitive riding colony not just when it comes to winning races, but gaining mounts on live horses.
Scrooge was not giving them a prize turkey for dinner.

“We were two dead men walking,” said the diminutive Lipton, an agent for more than four decades. “I was physically dead; he was professionally dead.”

Lipton looked like he was at death’s door, due to a liver ailment that pared his weight to an unsightly frailness. Maldonado was revving his motor but essentially spinning his wheels.

Business was bah, humbug.

“But we got back together,” continued Lipton, whose first rider was top apprentice H.K. “Duke” Wellington at Caliente in 1969. “I think Edwin and I set an example for other people because every day they were rooting us on.”

Fast forward to Dec. 16, the final day of the Betfair Hollywood Park meet. Maldonado wins his first major riding title and only the second of his career. In September, he captured the Fairplex Park crown.

At Hollywood, Maldonado outlasted perennial Southern California kingpin Rafael Bejarano by one victory, 30-29. It was a stunning signature accomplishment for the 30-year-old Maldonado, who at 5-7, physically stands head and shoulders above the typical jockey.

He looks and speaks like the average guy, lives in Baldwin Park with his girlfriend, Angel, and his three daughters, Mackenzie, 13, Genesis, 8, and Alicia, 3, and comes from a racing family. His father and grandfather were jockeys. Edwin has been riding since 2002.

“The success we’ve had has been inspiration to many of our peers,” Lipton said. “We start from scratch every day.”

Lipton evaded a question on his chronological age, responding philosophically. “Like Einstein said,” Lipton pointed out, “a man 30 can feel 90 and a man 90 can feel 30, so biologically, I’m in my 20s.

“The reason my health failed was due to my arrogance. I had half a liver. I didn’t think it would affect me, but it did.”

Two of Maldonado’s top patrons are trainers Doug O’Neill and Jeff Bonde. “He worked very hard in the mornings to get into those barns,” Lipton said. “He didn’t always ride the horses he worked, but he started winning for them and it progressed from there.”

“Time and patience,” Maldonado said when asked the major reasons for his overnight success. “Vic helped me a lot in that respect, and I never stopped working, even though I knew I
would never ride the horses I was working.

“But I knew eventually they would give me a shot. There were a couple times when I thought about leaving, but I stayed and it paid off. When I first came to Southern California in 2010, I met Vic. He was my first agent, but he had some personal problems and we split up. I went through two agents but I didn’t do as well as I had with Vic so we had a talk and I went back with him.

“Winning the title at Hollywood went down to the last day, so that was pretty exciting,” continued Maldonado, who is named on eight horses on opening day. “Bejarano won five races in two days to close the gap when I thought I was out of the woods, but I wasn’t.”

No less an authority than Julio Canani had high praise for Maldonado. “He can ride,” the trainer said. “Horses run past him but he keeps trying. His horses come back on. He tries hard for the minor awards, and that’s what trainers and owners appreciate. They need every dollar of purse money they can get.”

“Edwin has a good work ethic,” said Bonde in explaining why he rides him. “He’s a talented kid who’s a good gate rider and a good finisher. He’s my kind of rider.”

Dickens would have agreed.


Neil Drysdale has had The Lumber Guy since the gray son of Grand Slam ran a bang up second to Trinniberg in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, when the colt was moved from trainer Michael Hushion to the Hall of Fame trainer at Betfair Hollywood Park.

“He’s doing well so far,” Drysdale said of The Lumber Guy, who shows five published workouts over Hollywood’s Cushion Track since his Sprint runner-up effort under John Velazquez, who comes in from the East Coast to ride The Lumber Guy in the Malibu.

With rain falling on Santa Anita into Monday morning, the main track was closed to workouts although the training track was open. Drysdale said The Lumber Guy, the 3-1 morning line favorite, would run in the Malibu even if the track were off.

Owned by Barry Schwartz, The Lumber Guy has s four wins from seven starts and earnings of $735,800. He already has a Grade I win, coming in the Vosburgh Invitational over a “good” Belmont track last Sept. 29.

The field for the Malibu, race eight of nine: Fed Biz, Mike Smith, 9-2; Jimmy Creed, Garrett Gomez, 6-1; Drill, Martin Garcia, 4-1; The Lumber Guy, John Velazquez, 3-1; Politicallycorrect, Joel Rosario, 6-1; Basmati, Mario Gutierrez, 20-1; Castaway, Joe Talamo, 20-1; Private Zone, Martin Pedroza, 10-1; Guilt Trip, Rafael Bejarano, 12-1; and Unbridled’s Note, Corey Nakatani, 9-2.


Reneesgotzip worked hard from the No. 1 post position to win the Dec. 1 Skillful Joy Stakes by a neck under Garrett Gomez at Betfair Hollywood Park. The race originally was scheduled at six furlongs on turf but moved to Cushion Track due to inclement weather.

The 3-year-old daughter of City Zip owned by the Lanni Family Trust faces another daunting task on opening day, Wednesday, at Santa Anita when she takes on 4-5 morning line favorite My Miss Aurelia in the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs.

“Reneesgotzip is doing great,” said trainer Peter Miller, coming off a highly successful 2012 in which he captured his first training title, at Del Mar. “She didn’t like the track at Hollywood that day. It was real deep and tiring, but she won in spite of it.”

Miller knows that 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic runner-up My Miss Aurelia is the one to beat. “She’s a very good filly,” Miller said. “It should be a helluva race.”

The La Brea field: Mamma Kimbo, Mike Smith, 6-1; Nechez Dawn, Edwin Maldonado, 8-1; Reneesgotzip, Garrett Gomez, 4-1; Creditcardroulette, Joel Rosario, 20-1; My Miss Aurelia, Corey Nakatani, 4-5; Candrea, Martin Garcia, 10-1; and Book Review, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1.


Smart Ellis is the Joe Btfsplk of Thoroughbred race horses. Bltfsplk is the Al Capp character in Li’l Abner who is the world’s biggest jinx. He walks around with a perpetually dark rain cloud a foot over his head. Once he appears on any scene, dreadfully bad luck befalls anyone in his vicinity.

“Steadied, five wide into stretch; bit awkward start; off slow, steadied; rallied, bump late; inside, bumped, steadied,” are but five of Daily Racing Form’s trouble line comments on Smart Ellis in his nine career starts. He seems to encounter the Bermuda Triangle in every race.

Richard Mandella is hoping for clear sailing for Smart Ellis in the Grade III Sir Beaufort Stakes scheduled for one mile on turf on opening day.

“He was born in trouble,” said the Hall of Fame trainer, who conditions the chestnut son of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones for long-time clients Wertheimer and Frere, who also bred the chestnut colt. “Even one race (on turf at Del Mar in July) he won he had trouble.”

With an erratic local weather pattern of late, there was a chance the race could be moved to the main track. “He’ll probably run any way,” Mandella said.

The field for the Sir Beaufort: Fit to Rule, Edwin Maldonado, 4-1; Press Baron, Victor Espinoza, 10-1; Smart Ellis, Julien Leparoux, 9-2; Big Bane Theory, Joe Talamo, 9-2; Midnight Crooner, Martin Garcia, 3-1; Conspiracy, Garrett Gomez, 8-1; Battle Force, Mike Smith, 6-1; and Silentio, Rafael Bejarano, 9-2.

FINISH LINES: Joel Rosario, a 10-time Southern California riding champion who last year moved his base of operations to the East Coast under the direction of top agent Ron Anderson, is named on six horses opening day, but Anderson said the native of the Dominican Republic won’t remain at Santa Anita. “From time to time he’ll have stakes mounts at Santa Anita,” Anderson said, “but he’ll mainly be in Florida and where ever the stakes mounts take him.” . . . Retired trainer Mel Stute, 85, still recuperating in Pomona from a spill in which he suffered a head injury, hopes to celebrate Christmas with a post-holiday visit at a satellite facility. “He seemed really, really good yesterday when I visited with him,” said his son, trainer Gary Stute. “He shouldn’t be in there much longer. He still can’t lift himself out of the chair, but other than that, he seemed really good. Hopefully, we’ll get him to Fairplex for a while on opening day.”