Joel Rosario is relatively young compared to many thoroughbred jockeys today but in his brief career has already racked up an impressive list of victories. Hailing from the Dominican Republic, the 31-year old Rosario joins a cadre of Latin American jockeys such as Victor Espinoza, winner of the Triple Crown on American Pharoah, that have found success on the North American racing circuit.
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Rosario grew up on a farm in the Dominican Republic and learned to ride bareback when he was just four years old. His family was not involved in horseracing. They were poor farmers that grew cacao. Like many young people in the Dominican Republic, Rosario wanted to play baseball. His size was small, however, so his brother sent him to a school for jockeys. Rosario loved riding the horses but his mother was apprehensive. Nevertheless, Joel began riding thoroughbreds when he was 13 and won his very first race. After winning four straight riding titles at Santo Domingo, Rosario became convinced it was time to try American racing. He packed up his racing tack and headed for California.
It didn’t take long for trainers to notice Rosario’s riding skills. In the space of a few short years he was given mounts on popular horses such as Animal Kingdom and Orb. Rosario won the Kentucky Derby with Orb in 2013 and the next year captured the Dubai World Cup on Animal Kingdom, completing a sweep of two of the richest horse races in the world.
In the 2014 Belmont Stakes Rosario was given the mount on a horse named Tonalist. There was no way he could have known how much controversy was in store for him. California Chrome was attempting to complete the Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont after dominating his rivals in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He came into the Belmont racing for the third time in just five weeks. Tonalist, however, had skipped the Triple Crown events in favor of a mild and quiet campaign that saw him win the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont in May around the time California Chrome was embarking upon his quest for history. With little fanfare trainer Christophe Clement rested Tonalist and quietly prepared for the Belmont. Tonalist easily overpowered the fatigued California Chrome to spoil his Triple Crown bid. After the race the owner of California Chrome accused Clement and Rosario of taking “the coward’s way out” by not racing the horse in all three legs of the series.
As of April 2015 Rosario has won 2,003 races, most of them on the California circuit where his riding services continue to be in high demand.