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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

LAUREL: 3-DAY WEEKEND

 By Laurel Press Staff – On the brink of realizing a career milestone, champion jockey Jevian Toledo is poised to heighten to the excitement as Laurel Park gears up for the first three-day weekend of live racing during its summer meet.

            Toledo, Maryland’s two-time leading rider who is less than a month away from his 26th birthday, sits at 998 lifetime victories with mounts in six of nine races Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Laurel. Post time each day is 12:40 p.m.

            He would become the circuit’s second rider this year to reach 1,000 wins. Close friend Victor Carrasco, a Maryland regular spending the summer at Monmouth Park, accomplished the feat Jan. 26 at Laurel.

            “I’m feeling great, feeling blessed for all the opportunities I have in my whole career,” Toledo said. “You work for that kind of milestone, and if you get there you want to get to 2,000, too. But, it’s a beginning.

            “It will feel like a dream come true,” he added. “Before you start riding, your dream is to win at least one race and keep riding. If you can win 1,000 races, it will feel amazing.”

            Toledo has kept busy during the summer meet, which began May 30 following a 2 ½-month pause in live racing amid the coronavirus pandemic. He leads all riders with 115 mounts, ranks second with $520,778 in purse earnings and is fourth with 13 wins, seven behind leader Sheldon Russell, out four to six weeks with a broken wrist.

            A native of Puerto Rico, where he won 33 races before coming to the U.S. in the spring of 2013, Toledo earned his first domestic win June 8, 2013 aboard Peaceadaaction at Pimlico Race Course.

            He led all Maryland riders in wins in 2015 and 2017 and ranked second in 2016, finishing third in 2018 and fifth in 2014 and 2019. Represented by agent Marty Leonard, who also handles Russell’s book, Toledo owns five meet titles at Laurel, the most recent coming at its 2018 summer stand.

            Toledo won graded-stakes with Divisidero in the 2018 Arlington Handicap (G3) and Miss Behaviour in the 2014 Charles Town Oaks (G3) and has also regularly ridden multiple stakes winners O Dionysus, Sonny Inspired, Las Setas, Name Changer and Talk Show Man.

            “Every win, no matter if it’s a $5,000 claimer or a stakes race, every one is important. Every horse is important in every single race,” Toledo said. “Every owner and trainer and groom and exercise rider. My agent. Everybody is important in this game. Whether he win or lose, every horse is important. He puts money in your pocket and helps you have a living. You have to be thankful for that.”

            Toledo is feeling especially grateful after three of his friends and fellow riders went down with injuries last weekend. Russell and Carrasco were both hurt in gate mishaps, Russell July 16 at Delaware Park and Carrasco July 17 at Monmouth, where he suffered a hairline fracture of his right elbow and will miss six weeks. The same day, Rosario Montanez was unseated at Laurel and needed surgery July 18 to repair multiple fractures in his back.

            “I thank God every single day we are here and healthy,” Toledo said. “I’ve got a few friends right now like Victor and Sheldon and Montanez, and a few other riders around the country, that are hurt. So, we have to be thankful to God that we are healthy and we pray that they get healthy soon, also.”

                        Budding Turf Star Fiya Both Stakes & Sales-Bound Off Impressive Victory

            It took a while to get Fiya to the races, and it took even longer to get him on the grass. For the connections, it has been well worth the wait.

            Bred and owned by Ann Merryman and trained by her son, Michael, Fiya turned in one of the fastest performances of the year July 17 at Laurel, sprinting to a three-length allowance victory in 1:00.99, just .25 off the Exceller turf course mark set by Wet Your Whistle last April.

            A gelded sophomore son of Friesan Fire, Fiya also earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort, the second-highest number for a 3-year-old on grass this year. He earned an 82 for his five-length waiver maiden claiming romp going six furlongs on turf June 26, both wins coming over older horses and under jockey Feargal Lynch.

            Fiya is a head away from leading at every call this year, duking it out through fractions of 21.75 and 43.85 seconds in his most recent effort before leaving the field behind. He is based at Pimlico Race Course but spends plenty of time at The Orebanks, the Merrymans’ farm located 20 minutes away in Sparks, Md.

            “When he was a yearling and watching him go up on our turf course, any set he went with his stride on the turf was amazing and he was a standout,” Michael Merryman said. “In the wintertime you don’t have the option except to run on the dirt, but we knew he’d excel on the turf. He’s pretty talented on the dirt, too. We figured we’d get him some experience and turn him loose this year once turf season comes.

            “I was very impressed with him last time. Some of the horses in there were the real deal and I told Feargal before the race, ‘We’re going to find out who he is today,’” he added. “We talked about not getting in a speed duel, when he got back to the winner’s circle I said, ‘What happened to not getting in a speed duel?’ But, the horse handled it great. He was pretty much under wraps the whole time.”

            Fiya didn’t make his debut until late November, finishing third in a maiden claimer at Laurel, then came back to be second in a waiver maiden claimer just 14 days later. He got the rest of the winter off and then most of the spring when live racing was paused.

            Had the timing been different, Merryman said Friday’s Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga Race Course would have been a target, “but we can’t wheel him back in a week.” He said the lucrative turf season in September at Kentucky Downs is another option.

            Merryman, 27, is hoping to be able to make that choice. Fiya is currently being listed at a starting bid of $100,000 on Wanamakers.com, an on-line auction site launched in June by his cousin, Liza Hendriks. The site is host to a monthly non-traditional auction where live bidding continues from when a catalogue goes live until the final day of the sale.

            Fiya has the highest starting price of 11 horses catalogued for the sale. The catalogue went live July 22 and live bidding will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, July 30.

            “My phone has been ringing off the hook,” Merryman said. “This is bascially how my whole family has made their living throughout their careers. They breed a nice one, break their maiden and then find a number that they can live with. It would be bittersweet to lose this one, and part of me hopes that he doesn’t bring a number that works. But, no matter what, he is a special horse.”

                        Montanez Showing Improvement, Fundraiser Surpasses Another Goal

            A second goal has been exceeded in the fundraising effort for injured Laurel Park jockey Rosario Montanez, who remains hospitalized but is showing signs of improvement, his agent Joe Rocco Sr. said.

            As of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, a GoFundMe account created by Laurel trainer Brittany Russell stood at $32,580, topping the goal of $30,000 to go toward medical and general living expenses for Montanez, 28, and his fiancé, Chloe LaBarre.

            It is the second time in less than a week the goal has been surpassed. The initial goal of $20,000 upon the fund’s creation July 18 was eclipsed in less than 24 hours.

            “That is amazing, thank the Lord. That’s how much Rosario is liked,” Rocco said. “Hardest working jockey I’ve ever met in my 40 years on the racetrack.”

            A San Diego native who was a finalist for the 2011 Eclipse Award as champion apprentice, Montanez was unseated when his mount, 4-year-old filly Hendaya, clipped heels and fell leaving the backstretch of a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for filly and mare claimers 3 and up. While he was being tended to on the track, Hendaya was able to get up and jog off the turf course.

            Montanez underwent surgery July 18 to repair several fractures in his back at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he remains. He is allowed one daily 10-minute visit per hospital protocol amid the coronavirus pandemic.

            “They say he’s doing a lot better,” Rocco said. “They took the tubes from his throat, so that’s a good sign.”

            Three races after he went down, Montanez was booked to ride No Fooling Dude for trainer Marilyn McMullen. Retired jockey Vince ‘Jimbo’ Bracciale Jr., who used to ride with Rocco and now works with McMullen, credited the on-site medical staff led by Dr. Kelly Ryan of MedStar Health for their work with Montanez.

            “Jimbo was on scene when it happened,” Rocco said. “He told me the EMTs did a hell of a job, and Doc Kelly. She told them everything to do and they were right on. He said he thinks they saved his life.”

            Between them, Rocco (3,714) and Bracciale (3,545) won 7,259 career races. In addition to his agent, Montanez frequently goes to Bracciale for advice and support.

            “He’d always ask me, ‘Who was the best jockey you ever rode with?’ I rode with a lot of great jockeys, but Jimbo was probably one of the best,” Rocco said. “When I told him that, he was at his barn every day asking him questions. He’s just an amazing boy, man. I’ve never seen a jockey want to be the best he can be more than him.”

            To donate to Montanez’s GoFundMe campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/f/rosario-montanez

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