Edited Tampa Staff Release – While talking about his older brother Daniel with the Tampa Bay Downs publicity staff this morning, 18-year-old Darwin Quintero referred four separate times to Daniel’s corazon – the Spanish word for heart.
Daniel Quintero, a 19-year-old Venezuelan exercise rider who died here in a training accident while galloping a horse on Saturday morning, had a dream to one day become a jockey. And just about everyone who observed him in his six weeks here recognized his passion and enthusiasm to achieve that ambition.
“Darwin sees it from his brother’s side, that (Daniel) wanted to do this from his heart,” said Oldsmar jockey Manny Jimenez, who translated for Darwin. “Because if you’re not passionate about it, you can’t keep up with this lifestyle.
“He had the passion, and that is the way we all can push through this,” Jimenez said. “He (Darwin) doesn’t have any bad feelings for the races or the horses. He understands this is the risk we all take, but what he would like people to get out of this is we are people who come here looking for an opportunity, and sometimes we have to risk it all because there is always someone home waiting for us.”
Darwin and his father Ivan Quintero, a 45-year-old mechanic and welder from Miami, arrived in Oldsmar late Saturday after learning of Daniel’s passing. Daniel’s mother, Jaquelys Rivera, lives in Caracas. An older brother, Diego, resides in Colombia, and a sister, Samantha, and another brother, Juan Pablo, live in Venezuela.
Jimenez and Darwin Quintero led a prayer gathering inside the Tampa Bay Downs jockeys’ room a half-hour before today’s first race. Ivan Quintero, struggling to come to grips with the tragedy, said Daniel was dedicated to making his way in the Thoroughbred game.
“He tried to do things right and was very dedicated,” Ivan said. “He was a good friend, a very good kid and an excellent son.”
Ivan came to the United States about a year ago. Daniel and Darwin also arrived in Florida last year, and Daniel started working at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach before coming to Tampa Bay Downs.
Venezuelan countryman Samuel Marin, a jockey who first met Daniel about two years ago at La Rinconada racetrack in Caracas, said his ambition was to become one of the best jockeys in the sport.
“He would watch my races and ask me why I did something in a race or how I did it,” Marin said. “He was working all the time to get better. He was happy, loved his job and loved to talk about the races.
“(Saturday) was hard. We couldn’t believe that happened,” Marin said. “He was a nice kid, a special person. I have to believe that if he is gone, it’s because God has a plan about him.”
Alberto Paico, a veteran exercise rider who also works on the Tampa Bay Downs starting-gate crew and as a jockeys’ valet, mentored Daniel when he got to Oldsmar. “I gave him some advice and told him to just ask if he needed anything,” Paico said.
“He listened. He always listened, and he took what you gave him very well. The important thing for people to realize is that what happened to him can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you have much experience or not. There’s a lot of traffic around (on the racetrack), and sometimes there is nothing you can do.
“He was still learning, but there was nothing bad about that. He was interested in learning and getter better,” Paico said.
In the immediate aftermath Saturday night, Ivan Quintero told Paico he did not agree with Daniel’s career choice, but when he realized his son’s passion for horses and competing, he dropped his opposition.
Jimenez saw Daniel’s joy too, even though he really only knew him in passing.
“What I saw in this kid, it’s like a reflection in the mirror of the life of a jockey,” Jimenez said. “The risks we have to take, the path we have to walk, how we have to keep working to get the opportunity to ride a horse.
“He was a kid with a great attitude and this was the start of that dream. And (Darwin) wants to let people know how much courage it takes to get that far,” Jimenez said. “His brother is sad what happened, of course, but he was happy that he was doing what he loved to do.”