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Riding High at Los Alamitos

Horse racing: At 21 years old, Andrade has quickly become one of the top quarter horse jockeys.

May 09, 2001|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After each race Friday, jockey Oscar Andrade got the count from Henry Garcia. In the jockey room at Los Alamitos Race Track, Garcia, a former jockey, was there to remind Andrade how close he was to the track record.

"Every time I went in there to change, he would give me the update," said Andrade, 21. "He would say 'Only two more to go.' Then everyone started talking about it."

When Andrade brought home Winner Wants Cash in the 12th and final race, he had set a new standard--seven winners. That his record-setting performance came during the Kindergarten Futurity trials highlighted the achievement.

But Andrade learned just how big an accomplishment it was the next day when he and his wife traveled to his parents' home in Zapopan, a small Mexican town near Guadalajara. Word had preceded them.

"Everyone already knew," said Elena Andrade, Oscar's wife. "People were talking about it when we got there. The news traveled very fast. Everyone is into horses down there."

Andrade's only regret was his mother, Genobeva Andrade, who has never seen him ride, did not get to see the races.

"He was hoping she was watching," Elena Andrade said. "To watch live, they have to go to a book an hour away from their house and they don't have a car. He was hoping the whole time, as he was winning race after race, that his mom was watching. But she couldn't get a ride there. She was so excited when we called her the next day."

Said Oscar Andrade: "Some day, she will see me ride."

Horses have been a part of Andrade's life since he was a baby. Juan Andrade, his father, trains show horses. Oscar learned to ride at his father's stable. Juan Carlos Andrade, his brother, is a jockey in Mexico City.

Even with his lineage, Oscar Andrade never dreamed of reaching these heights. In his second full season as a jockey, he has 41 wins and has earned $281,530, ranking him fourth among Los Alamitos jockeys in both categories.

"I always wanted to ride at Los Alamitos, but I never thought it would happen so fast," Andrade said in Spanish, with his wife translating. "And things like breaking records, I never thought about that. I came here just to ride."

Andrade dreamed, though. As a child, he would watch quarter horse racing on television and trained as rider. His first mount was in a match race, a popular event in Mexico. The races are legal, but unofficial, with two horses racing for a purse put up by the owners.

The jockeys get 2% of the money. Andrade was 11 when he first raced, which he won on a horse owned by Felix Banuelos.

Banuelos sent horses and Andrade to Los Alamitos in 1999. Andrade got his first mount in the Kindergarten Futurity trials that year.

"I was scared because I had no idea how everything worked," Andrade said. "I ended up running last. I was so nervous. Everything was different up here."

Andrade adjusted quickly. He finished fifth among Los Alamitos jockeys with 56 winners and $860,387 in earnings last year. He received the Val Tonks Award, given to the top quarter horse rider in California. But he reached the pinnacle when he won the 300-yard Kindergarten Futurity aboard Secret Card in a track-record time of 15.27 seconds.

"I think that's when people started to notice me," Andrade said.

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