BY JIM WELLS
He was almost certain that he had gotten to the wire first and then came the only confirmation he needed.
“I could hear the boys yelling behind me and then I knew,” he said. “I was sure then that we won.”
It is a milestone in a jockey’s career, that first win, the start of what he or she hopes is a long and successful career, the first trip of many that culminate with a picture afterward in front of the grandstand.
For Erik Esqueda, it came Thursday night in the second race aboard a longshot named Full Power Eagle, surprising not only the rider but the trainer as well.
In fact, Erik’s brother Cristian was on the favorite, a horse named One Famous Ocean, but it was Eagle at 21.6-1 that sailed past the wire first.
Trainer Jason Olmstead was expecting a different result himself but was pleased nonetheless. “She had a real rough fall and winter,” he said, “but (this time) she fell out of there running and didn’t weaken.”
Erik, 18, was fully aware that there is a price to pay after a rider’s first career win, a process that takes many forms but is never pleasant regardless of the manner in which it occurs __the hazing.
He knew it was coming. “Oh, yes,” he said. “I’ve seen it many times.”
That’s part of growing up around the racetrack, particularly with an older brother who is a jockey, too.
Esqueda was doused with buckets of water for starters and there was more to come when he reached the jockey’s lounge. One of the veteran riders was prepared to remove his eyebrows with a hair trimmer but was stopped by colleagues after a brief trim.
“I wish I could have gotten off that easy,” said Josh Romero, who rode his first winner in 1996 at Delta Downs. “I needed to call the paramedics when they got through with me.” He was painted up with a variety of hot substances applied to various “tender” areas of the body. “I started to blister up,” he recalled. “They used hot sauce, Tabasco, you name it.”
Hall of Fame rider Dean Butler suffered an even more ignominious fate after his first winner at Suffolk Downs in 1993.
He was not only painted in similar fashion to what Romero underwent, but was then thrown into the female riders’ dressing quarters.
“Buck naked,” he said.
Mark Anderson recalled his ordeal at Fonner Park, in 1998.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Shoe polish. Pants down.”
And so it goes, each time a rider brings in that first winner, although the consequences have lessened considerably from the days of yore.
Esqueda, understandably, is quite pleased to have the ordeal behind him, and like other riders before him will recite the date, place and name of his first winner.
Esqueda rode for the first time on June 28 in Shakopee, and brought in his first winner on the 22nd mount of his career with a 3-year-old filly owned by Thomas J. Scheckel.
Some day, maybe 10 or 15 years from now, he will tell someone, somewhere:
“Oh, yeah, ”it was August 1, 2019 at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. The horse’s name was Full Power Eagle.”
MAWING MOVING ON
Leslie Mawing rode what was likely his final race of the season at Canterbury Park Friday night.
He is headed to Colonial Downs for the meet that runs there August 8 through September 7.
For anyone thinking they had seen the last of him, Mawing had this rejoinder:
“I have to come home,” he said. “I do live in Prior Lake.”