The 18-year-old apprentice jockey is the son of Eibar Coa, who was the leading rider here in 2001 and 2002 and won more than 22 riding titles and 4,000 races, including the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in his career. The younger Coa has only ridden in just over 100 races, but he’s already notched hat tricks on successive live racing days at Monmouth on June 3 and June 8 and heads are turning.
The Coas are native Venezuelans but the elder rider recommended that Keiber attend the Laffit Pincay, Jr. Jockey School in Panama rather than learn the trade at an academy in their home country because Pincay’s school has an outstanding record of producing successful riders including Alex Solis, Cornelio Velasquez, Jose Lezcano and Monmouth-based Elvis Trujillo and Paco Lopez.
“When I got to the school I was told that just because I have a big last name and a famous father, I would have to make it on my own,” said Keiber, who graduated last December and has already won 12 races. “I had to learn things and do things for myself and I made my own way.”
Right out of the gate, that proved a difficult task. In only Keiber’s first week at the school in Feb. 2011, his father was involved in a racing accident at Gulfstream that fractured his C-4 vertebra. Eibar Coa was told that he would be paralyzed from the neck down.
“That was a very tough time,” said Keiber. “I had a big decision to make. I didn’t know if I still wanted to be a jockey and stick with it. I talked to my dad in the hospital and he told me he would support whatever I decided. I grew up my whole life watching him ride and always wanted to be like him. He was my motivation. I didn’t quit.”
Eibar Coa has made a remarkable recovery and is now walking and even driving again and is enjoying a second career as a jockey agent in Florida. Keiber said that his parents plan to visit Monmouth this summer to watch him compete.
What the father will see is what horsemen here have already noticed about the young rider, who keeps his five-pound weight advantage until one year after his fifth win, which was achieved on April 29, 2012.
“It’s hard to remember that he’s a bug (apprentice) because he’s very mature and a really fast learner. He looks good on a horse. He’s got good hands and a good seat and he gets them to run for him,” said Cory Moran, who is Coa’s agent and represented Lopez (2008) and Shaun Bridgmohan (1998) when they won Eclipse Awards as the top apprentice rider in North America. “At first it was tough to break in because there are so many established and good riders here, but now that the trainers see what he can do, business is really picking up. If there’s a hot bug rider in the room, everyone will jump in on the action.”
Along with Serey, trainers Tim Hills and Ben Perkins, Jr. are giving Coa the call and he has also won races for Wesley Ward and Eddie Plesa, Jr. among others.
Every race presents a learning opportunity and even better, Coa has a top teacher.
“I always call my dad. We talk every day and we go over every race, the horses and the PPs (past performances),” said Keiber. “He helps me a lot and I trust his advice.”
After riding in four races and winning none in December 2011, this year so far Coa has a dozen victories, 14 seconds and 13 thirds from 109 mounts. His double hat trick effort and early success here make one wonder if an Eclipse Award as leading apprentice is in the cards.
“Before I even started riding, I always dreamed of that,” said Coa. “But that’s something that takes a lot of hard work and commitment and isn’t easy to get. I am willing to work my hardest to accomplish that. That and being the best I can are some things that I want.”