DEL MAR, Calif.— Luis Mendez is beginning to make quite an impression at Del Mar. A victory Thursday helped Mendez crack the Top 10 in the Del Mar trainer standings with four wins. That’s out of just 14 starts and his horses are finishing in the money 64% of the time. Last Friday, his 2-year-old, The Big Wam, took the $125,000 Graduation Stakes.
Not bad for a guy from Utah who’s packing just 24 horses on the backside. Not that Mendez is new to this game. He’s been coming to Del Mar since 2015, began training on his own in 2018 and trained champion sprinter Dr. Schivel when he won the Del Mar Futurity in 2020.
“I feel blessed that we have these nice guys (his stable help) working for us and our team, Mendez says. “We got the horses fit and that’s why we have the results.”
Mendez got his start growing up on the family farm in Mexico. When he was 14, the family immigrated to the U.S. to a farm in Idaho near the Canadian border where his father had a job. A couple years later he hooked up with former trainer Shane Chipman, who he credits with teaching him everything he knows about training.
“I learned a lot from him, Mendez says. “We don’t see each other much but when I do, he’s like family. I learned a lot about the team and how to treat people. Sometimes we get a little mad because things are not working right, but by the end of the day we get to talking about everything, like a family.”
Mendez says Chipman was always big on the team concept in the barn, something he encourages in his own barn today.
“I always give Saul, my oldest mate, the right to veto,” Mendez points out. “Like if I say: ‘Go to gallop,’ if he doesn’t feel something is right he can turn around and come back, or if he’s out on a walk or a jog and sees something he can say that horse shouldn’t train today. We respect those ideas.”
It seems to be working. In 2021, Mendez posted his best year in terms of earnings, with $735,304, This year, he’s well on his way to setting a new personal mark with over $600,000 in the bank already. One advantage Mendez has over most of the other trainers is he works his own horses.
“I like to take them out to give them fitness,” Mendez says, “and to see what kind of performance they got; how far they are. I ride around the barn area and listen and I hear a lot of arguing. It gets me to thinking that we are blessed to have this good of a team.”
Of course when you’re soring big wins like the one in the Graduation Stakes with The Big Wam, there’s not a lot of disagreements among the help.
“That gives you confidence, it’s like getting more power into you,” Mendez says. “The excitement, it’s a good feeling to come back to the barn. Sometimes you feel real confident about a horse and then you get your butt kicked and the next day it’s like carrying a bag of cement on your shoulders. You’re tired mentally but you keep going. You have to because you have to come back to the barn the next day and make sure all the little babies are doing good.”
It just got a little tougher emotionally for Mendez this past weekend. Like many working at Del Mar, the families are packing up and going home because the children have to go back to school. For Mendez, home is in St. George, Utah.
“My wife was a little sensitive the other day,” Mendez says, “because she was not here for the win picture.”
Judging by what we’ve seen so far, there will be plenty more opportunities for that to happen.
Notes: Country Grammer continues to do well for trainer Bob Baffert who says, “all systems are go for the Pacific Classic.” Baffert believes his Dubai World Cup winner and runner-up last out in the G2 San Diego will enjoy the 1 ¼ mile of the TVG Pacific Classic on September 3…The third annual CARMAthon is underway and continues through Saturday. The California Retirement Management Account is taking donations this weekend to help with its grant program, which assists more than 20 Thoroughbred aftercare charities. Donations can be made on the CARMA website…Notable works for Friday: Dirt – Forbidden Kingdom (3f, :37.40); Big City Lights (4f, :48.40); Carmelita’s Man (4f, :50.40); Finneus (4f, :50.00); Grace Adler (4f, :47.20); Bran (5f, :59.80); Fashionably Fast (5f, 1:00.40); Laurel River (5f, 1:00.60), and Heywoods Beach (6f, 1:12.80). A total of 170 horses put in official works Friday.
DMTC Press Release
Photo: Luis Mendez hugs jockey Juan Hernandez after Big City Lights’ win in the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Futurity (Benoit Photo)