BY JIM WELLS
The adrenaline was flowing and Oscar Delgado released it as he strode through the tunnel to the jockeys’ room after winning the first race on Saturday’s card.
“That guy never stops talking and I should know because I talk a lot,” said a fellow rider.
Yes, Delgado has never been accused of being at a loss for words, but as he’s demonstrating this summer, he can generally back up whatever it is he has to say. He will ride the second favorite in the richest quarter horse race in Canterbury history on Sunday’s card.
The leader in the quarter horse rider standings, Delgado was once petrified by horses, but he has never been afraid to speak his mind, to attempt new undertakings with a willingness to learn from his mistakes.
Take his understanding of English, a language with which he had little familiarity when he arrived in the United States 10 years ago. “I know a lot of people who won’t speak English because they are afraid someone will make fun of them,” Delgado said. “I tell them that they won’t ever learn if they don’t make mistakes and keeping trying.”
Delgado allows himself to do just that and it has served him well. He makes distinctions, searches for and then applies a word that expresses sometimes a miniscule difference. “How should I say it,” he will say, attempting a word and then discarding it for another that expresses a small difference in what it is he wants to convey. Nuances do not trouble him in the least.
“People sometimes tell me I’m greedy,” he said. “But wanting to win, being competitive, I don’t think that’s greedy.”
Competitive? Oh yes.
“He has a good personality, is friendly and he hollered to me on the backside a couple of times,” said trainer Ed Ross Hardy. “He wanted to know if I had anything for him.” Last summer at Prairie Meadows Hardy’s wife asked him, how about this guy, referring to Delgado. Hardy started to use Delgado toward the end of that meet.
Then this spring at Remington Park, Hardy looked up one morning and guess who was walking into his barn. “I threw him on a couple of horses,” Hardy said. “He kept showing up every morning after that.”
Delgado has 12 wins, six more than anyone else, in the quarter horse standings at Canterbury Park after riding the winner of Saturday’s first race. Trainers in Shakopee are beginning to take notice, as Hardy certainly has.
“I haven’t had anyone in my barn this good since Tad Leggett,” Hardy said, referring to the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider who won three quarter horse riding titles outright and shared a fourth. Not that Delgado is there yet.
“No, he has a way to go yet,” Hardy added, “but he has the talent and the desire to be that good in time.”
Time and time again, Delgado demonstrates that he has a special connection with horses and that he understands what to ask of them and when. “You have to be a horseman first,” Delgado said. “They know right away when you touch them if you are okay and have confidence in yourself and in them.”
There is more to riding successfully than confidence alone and Delgado seems to have that, too.
“A lot of jockeys have trouble deciding when to be aggressive and when not,” Hardy added. “That’s a talent thing. A lot of them don’t know when to push or pull. He’s talented in that sense, has an athletic ability. He knows his body, his hands and his stick.”
And yet he was scared to death of horses as a youngster.
“I never wanted to ride,” he explained. “But it was sort of a family tradition. My grandfather had horses.”
It was Delgado’s father and his oldest sibling, Juan, also a rider, who finally convinced him to conquer his fear. And it was (horse owner) friends of Juan’s who filled out the paperwork and took care of other necessary stipulations in 2007 to bring Oscar to the U.S., to Mount Pleasant Meadows in Michigan
Delgado has ridden thoroughbreds as well, but has made his mark in the quarter horse ranks. Among the tracks he listed where he has won riding titles are Mount Pleasant, Hoosier Park, Hialeah and Indiana Downs.
His most memorable moment while learning the ropes in the U.S. came in a thoroughbred race at Gulfstream Park, in his first race on the grass. “I finished first,” he said, “and Edgar Prado was second. He signed the picture for me after I got it.”
Winning that race gave Delgado a shot of confidence that he belonged in this sport that had drawn him from Mexico to the racetracks of the United States.
Sunday, Delgado will ride A Jordan Reed, the 9-2 second choice, in the $167,600 Mystic Lake Northlands Futurity , the richest quarter horse race in track history. The two-year-old is out of the Hardy barn and will break from the one hole in the 10-horse field.
Told that his horse was second choice in the race, Delgado waved his arms furiously. “No I don’t want to hear that,” he said.
Clearly, Delgado doesn’t want anyone else speaking for him or his horse. He can do that himself.