Apprentice jockey Cancel getting noticed at Saratoga

Right out of the gate, apprentice jockey Eric Cancel is making an impression.
Jockey Eric Cancel, right, leads the pack as he heads toward the finish line in one of seven races he was entered in at Saratoga Race Course Saturday, August 15, 2015.
Jockey Eric Cancel, right, leads the pack as he heads toward the finish line in one of seven races he was entered in at Saratoga Race Course Saturday, August 15, 2015.

Right out of the gate, apprentice jockey Eric Cancel is making an impression.

The 19-year-old from Puerto Rico, both of whose parents rode there, made his debut in the United States racing earlier this year, and at Saratoga Race Course has totaled six wins in 98 starts, finished second 11 times and third 10. For the year, he’s 60-61-63 in 509 starts.

“He’s not afraid to be a bit aggressive leaving the gate, which he needs to be, and take advantage of the pace scenario sometimes,” trainer David Donk said. “We have a situation where a lot of guys are taking horses back quite often, though I’m not quite sure why. He’s not afraid to be aggressive there. He looks really good on a horse — he’s well-balanced. He’s got good hands.”

From Thursday through Monday, a five-day span, Cancel was entered to ride for 25 different trainers, showing he is building his business and starting to make a name for himself. He was scheduled to ride Get Gorgeous for Donk in Monday’s $100,000 Saratoga Dew, but that horse was scratched.

The young rider said he learned a lot from his parents — Efrain Cancel and Gezzela Algarin — but he continues to absorb as much as he can from mentor and Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero, as well as from his fellow riders in the Saratoga jockeys colony.

He’s seen his technique improve this summer as a result.

“Riding with patience, I think,” Cancel said. “I’m pretty confident when I’m in the lead. I try to ride with as much patience as I can. That has seemed to work out for me.”

Still, he sees room for improvement in himself and wants, especially, to work on his timing on the grass. While he has won 14 percent of his races this year on dirt or all-weather surfaces (45-for-319) and has finished in the top three 43 percent of the time on those surfaces (137-for-319), his numbers on grass are lower. In 190 starts, he has won 15 (8 percent) and been in the money 48 times (25 percent).

“It’s not that it’s complicated, but you’ve got to be patient and make the smart move,” he said. “If you don’t make the smart move at the right time, you can lose the race. . . . When you’re riding on the grass, you’ve got to try to get a different timing of everything.”

While he is represented by agent Blake Dutrow, Cancel lives with Cordero and seeks his council as often as possible.

“He teaches me a lot, how he used to ride, and that has helped me a lot here,” Cancel said. “Every  time when I get home, he tells me to sit down and we talk about what happened in this race, asks me ’Why did you do that?’ He tries to correct me so I don’t make the same mistake next time.”

Just being associated with the racing legend has helped drum up some business. Donk said that was one thing that caught his attention when approached about possibly using the apprentice. Another point that worked in Cancel’s favor was his training at the Escuela Vocacional Hipica school in Carolina, Puerto Rico, which also has recently produced talent such as Irad and Jose Ortiz and Manny Franco.

“He’s out of the Puerto Rican jockey school, and Johnny Velazquez is like a brother to me,” Donk said. “Johnny came from that school. Lately, we’ve had Irad and Jose and Manny have come from there. A lot of good riders. Eric came out of the school with a pretty good reputation. We knew that when he came here. He’s ridden a few horses for me, and he’s got a good future.”

Cancel’s riding in the afternoons might catch the eyes of some trainers, but he has made his introductions more formally in the mornings.

“Usually, I go in the mornings, or he calls my agent and tells him he wants me to work a horse,” Cancel said. “They want to see what type of ability you have before they give you a ride. Some trainers, they’ve already seen you ride and already have an idea how you’re going to be on a horse. You’ve always got to have confidence and not be scared. Just do your job like the professional you are and try not to mess up.”

“He’s been able to come around and help us out in the mornings and in the afternoons,” said trainer Ken McPeek, who gave Cancel a leg-up onto Gridley Here for the $100,000 Birdstone on Wednesday. “He carries himself with a lot of class, and at this stage, that’s a real positive.”

Cancel brought Gridley Here home fourth. He said his goal is to finish the meet with 10 wins and continue building relationships with some of the best trainers in the game. He’ll have a few more chances with McPeek, at the very least.

“Our intentions are for him to ride some more for us, especially this fall and winter in New York,” McPeek said. “I think Eric fits our program real well.”

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