LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Rafael Bejarano, ranked No. 20 in all-time wins by a jockey at Churchill Downs with 213 victories, is finding early success in his return to Louisville after spending the last 15 years riding in California.
“It’s so good to be back home in Kentucky,” Bejarano said as he galloped beneath the Twin Spires on a Phil D’Amato-trained horse. Bejarano began his career in Kentucky in 2002 and quickly rose to become one of Churchill Downs’ top riders within two years. The native of Peru is a three-time leading rider at Churchill Downs with titles in the 2004-’05 Spring Meets and 2005 Fall Meet. Bejarano made the switch to California in 2007 and found early success riding for many of the top outfits like Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill.
“Business is starting to get back going in Kentucky,” Bejarano said. “There just weren’t enough horses to go around in California so I had to make a change. We are working hard and very glad to be back to Churchill Downs where my career really started.”
Entering Saturday’s card at Churchill Downs, Bejarano recorded four victories including a shocking 73-1 upset score aboard Lessons From Avery in a turf allowance event last Sunday. Over the next three days of racing, he has 16 entries including three for trainer Greg Foley who was an early supporter of his career in Kentucky.
“I think he’s a great rider and we’ve had a lot of success in the past,” Foley said. “I used him a lot when he first came to Churchill and we won a lot of big races together. He rode (multiple graded stakes winner) Champali for us and was a big part in his success on the track.”
Former jockey Julio Espinoza, the No. 12 leading rider in Churchill Downs history, represents Bejarano in Kentucky.