By Richard Rosenblatt
When the call goes out for “Riders Up!” before the 150th edition of the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes on Saturday, a young man named Martin Chuan will get a leg up on Everfast, a long shot who finished second in the Preakness (G1).
That’s what we said. Turns out that Martin Chuan is the leading rider in Peru, a 24-year-old who has more than 1,200 victories on his resume, according to his agent, but less than a dozen wins in the United States.
Chuan has the ride aboard Everfast thanks to trainer Dale Romans, and Romans’ son, Jake, the jockey’s agent .
“I’m bringing him here because I think he can really ride,’’ said Dale, “and I know we’ll get a 100 per cent effort on a horse with a little bit of a price.”
Romans has never been shy when it comes to taking chances, but he’s won with Chuan before at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky, and really likes what he’s been watching.
“When it’s all said and done, I think he’s going to be on a par with the Ortiz’s (Jose and Irad, Jr.),’’ said Romans, sitting on a golf cart outside his barn at Saratoga. “He’s an excellent rider. Well-grounded, intelligent.”
This is his second season on the scene at Ellis Park. He’s ridden five winners in 24 starts in 2019, and the Travers will be his first Grade 1 start. In fact, his only other graded-stake race was the Indiana Oaks (G3), where he finished ninth aboard Shacklette.
His most recent victory came aboard Sally’s Curlin (trained by Romans) at Ellis Park on Aug. 11 in an allowance optional claiming race.
Last year, Chuan appeared ready to ride in the U.S. full time, and was given several mounts by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen as well as Mike Maker and Romans. But two weeks and 24 starts later he returned home, said Jake Romans.
“I’m not sure of the details, but all I know is he told me he had to go home because he was homesick,’’ Jake Romans said. “But we kept in touch.”
Romans has the book for Channing Hill as well as Robby Albarado, but when Albarado was sidelined in June with a fractured wrist, there was a spot, and Chuan and Romans were a team again.
Chuan speaks little English, but Dale Romans understands enough Spanish to chat with the rider, while Jake Romans uses a translation app to converse.
The Travers field may end up at a dozen by the time entries are drawn on Tuesday, including the likes of Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Tacitus, Jim Dandy (G2) winner Tax, and Dwyer (G3) winner Code of Honor. There will be three Hall of Fame jockeys in the race – Mike Smith, John Velazquez and Javier Castellano. The two leading riders in the nation, Jose and Irad Ortiz, Jr., will be in the race. So will eight of the top 10 leading money-winning riders.
And so will Martin Chuan, riding a Preakness runner-up owned by famed Calumet Farm.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.