Willie Delgado traded in training on the east coast to become California Chrome's exercise rider (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire).
Willie Delgado has been in the Thoroughbred business all his life, but it was a fortuitous vacation to Southern California last summer that put him in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. Delgado was training and exercise riding in Maryland last August when he took a much-needed break to see his brother, Alberto, ride at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club near San Diego.
Delgado is a former jockey himself, and at his brother’s encouragement he decided to move west. After wrapping up business in Maryland, Delgado relocated to sunny Southern California in September.
“I had a bunch of bad horses,” Delgado said Monday. “I was galloping for Dove Houghton and training my own. It just never peaked for me with training, [so] I just went back to what I do best – which is galloping horses.”
He soon began exercise riding for Art Sherman thanks to his brother’s connections. Alberto often got the call aboard Sherman’s horses in the afternoon, and he had twice ridden a promising chestnut 2-year-old to victory for the trainer. That flashy colt was California Chrome and Delgado’s talent as an exercise rider earned him the morning mount aboard ‘Chrome,’ a horse he was immediately impressed with.
“I said, ‘Wow! It’s true what my brother says,” Delgado recalled. “My brother said he could run.”
California Chrome only got better from there and proved his ability to the world at Churchill Downs on May 3. The colt won the race impressively under Victor Espinoza for trainer Art Sherman and owners-breeders Steve Coburn and Perry Martin.
The journey to the Preakness will be a homecoming for Delgado, who will see Alberto and a second brother, Gilberto, who is a jockey on the Mid-Atlantic circuit. He’ll also be reunited with his 6-year-old daughter Savannah who was the first to congratulate him Saturday.
WILLIE DELGADO AT CHURCHILL DOWNS
Photo courtesy of Pimlico Racecourse
“As soon as the horse crossed the wire, the first text I got was from her. It said, ‘Daddy, I can’t believe you won the Kentucky Derby. I’m so proud of you.’ That’s when I started crying,” Delgado said.
Delgado looks forward to heading to Pimlico with a stronger-than-ever California Chrome.
“When I pulled him out of his stall [Monday] morning, he never walked like that. He was dragging me around. He was shaking his head like he hadn’t run yet,” said Delgado. “With every race, he’s gotten stronger and stronger.”
California Chrome is likely to ship to Baltimore three to five days before the Preakness where a potential field of seven other sophomores awaits.