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Where’d They Go?

When looking through the day’s entries the absence of certain jockeys becomes obvious. No longer named on thoroughbreds are Jareth Loveberry, Julio Felix, Constantino Roman, Alex Canchari and Leandro Goncalves. With various protective protocols at racetracks around the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the opportunity for riders to work at more than one track has become nearly impossible. At Canterbury, if a thoroughbred rider leaves to race elsewhere , that rider would need to quarantine for 14 days in Minnesota before being allowed to again ride in Shakopee.

Tough choices had to be made. With Arlington Park opening last week it was not as difficult for longtime Chicago riders Roman and Felix to head back to Chicago. Loveberry was having a good meet here but his original plan before the pandemic and a delayed Arlington meet was to ride in Chicago not Shakopee and have first call for high-percentage trainer Larry Rivelli. Last week he went back to Plan A, rode nine for Rivelli the first two days in Chicago, winning four and never missing the board. On Sunday Loveberry was aboard seven for Rivelli and won three.

“I plan to make Chicago my home base,” Loveberry said. “Ride [in Chicago] nine or 10 months and two at Oaklawn.”

Leaving Shakopee was a business move but not easy for the veteran rider who began his career in 2005. “I miss it. I love Canterbury. It was hard leaving,” he said. “I didn’t pack until the morning I had to leave.”

Loveberry will be on many short-odds horses for Rivelli, who is winning at a 26% clip. Does the pressure increase when the wagering public expects a win? “I just ride the race,” Loveberry said. “Whether the horse is 80 to 1 or 1 to 5, I just ride the best I can.”

Canchari and Goncalves opted to ride at Prairie Meadows where both are in the top eight in the standings. They had been traveling back and forth but that ended last week when protocols were updated at both tracks.

So what is a jockey agent like Pete Antonucci to do? He had represented Loveberry here. He also has top rider Ry Eikleberry, but a good agent needs two riders. They don’t muck stalls or walk hots, but an agent works hard. It’s a different type of work. And Antonucci is very good at it.  “I’m working on it,” Antonucci said Saturday of finding another rider.  And on Sunday he let it be known that he would have the book of apprentice jockey Luis Valenzuela who last rode in Phoenix. He has ridden both thoroughbreds and quarter horses since beginning his career last year.

It was odds-on that Antonucci would have another jockey before long and that goal became easier when Canterbury racing officials updated protocols over the weekend for thoroughbred riders who have not been actively riding at other racetracks.

‘Any jockey coming to the state of Minnesota for the first time this season who has not had access to the jockeys’ room at another track in the previous 30 days must quarantine for at least four days once arriving in the state of Minnesota and then provide a negative COVID-19 test result. After a negative COVID-19 test result has been returned, the jockey will be eligible to gallop, work horses and be named on horses.’

Race fans will see Nik Goodwin accepting mounts on thoroughbreds soon and participating in the quarter horse program Tuesday. His wife Betty Jo Williams, also a jockey, should be found in the entries as we approach the end of the first half of the season as well. Protocols for quarter horse riders are different and do allow them to ride here with a negative COVID-19 test. They also are sequestered in a jock’s room separate from that used by thoroughbred riders.  However QH riders such as Berkley Packer and Eugenio Alberto Navarrete, Jr. won’t be at Canterbury as they would then be prohibited from returning to Prairie which offers three QH races daily.