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Submitted by John Conte on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Del Mar: Apprentice Irving Orozco gets chance to pursue his dream

DEL MAR, Calif. – There is not much in the area surrounding the California high desert town of Victorville, where apprentice jockey Irving Orozco grew up. That barren atmosphere benefited a young Orozco about five years ago.

All of 14 years old at the time, Orozco, with the aid of a little brother, put saddles on the family’s racing Quarter Horses and galloped them on a gravel and dirt road adjacent to the family ranch.

“I’d go about a half-mile down the road and come back,” he recalled. “There were no cars.”

There were plenty of dreams on those rides, however, thoughts of becoming a jockey. In the last few years, those dreams have become reality.

After riding Quarter Horses briefly at Los Alamitos, Orozco shifted to Thoroughbreds in 2012. After a successful season in Northern California last summer, and overcoming a wrist injury that left him sidelined for more than eight months, Orozco, 19, has made his mark in Southern California in recent months.

He was the leading apprentice at the Betfair Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting that ended on Sunday, and will ride for the first time at Del Mar this summer. His trip to the San Diego County track – located about 130 miles from Victorville – will be the first since he attended the races as a child.

“This will be my first time going there racing,” he said last weekend. “I guess it will be exciting to race in front of crowds of 20,000 or 30,000. I’m ready to compete against the top guys in the room.”

Orozco, a lanky 5-foot-7 and 112 pounds, has already ridden well against those same riders. Orozco has won 59 races – 49 on Thoroughbreds – and finished the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting with 12 wins from 81 mounts, tied for 12th in the standings.

A year ago, he was riding at tracks such as Golden Gate Fields, Pleasanton, and Santa Rosa, contemplating a move to Southern California. The idea came to a halt at Golden Gate Fields last September when Orozco injured his right wrist in a spill. At the time, Orozco had won 36 races since the start of his Thoroughbred career in late May.

“It came at a bad time,” he said.

When the pain failed to subside after the first month, Orozco sought a second opinion from doctors at the University of Southern California, only to be told that his condition had not improved.

“They said your wrist was cracked and it was only getting worse,” he said. “It was a nightmare.”

A second operation, complete with the insertion of three stabilizing pins and a bone graft from his hip, put Orozco on the road to recovery – and pushed him toward riding in Southern California.

A native of Mexico, Orozco moved to California in 2004 with his mother and stepfather, Linda Mora and Miguel Lopez. The family has racing connections. Orozco has grandparents who have worked as hotwalkers on the backstretch at Southern California tracks. Lopez has raced Quarter Horses at Los Alamitos, which gave Orozco an opportunity to begin galloping horses there when he turned 16.

“After a year at Los Alamitos, I was 17,” he said. “I rode Quarter Horses for eight months. After that I wanted to be in the Thoroughbred business. I always followed the Thoroughbreds.”

Orozco met jockey agent Mike Ciani earlier this year, and began working with him when his wrist healed. Orozco started working horses at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita in April, but did not ride his first race on this circuit until late May. He won with his fifth mount.

“We’ve been working every day,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having a good meet at Del Mar.”
Thursday, he has four mounts on an eight-race program.

Because of his injury, Orozco’s apprentice term has been extended. He will claim a five-pound allowance until Feb. 27, 2014. Over the next seven months, he will have ample opportunities to prove that he belongs on one of the nation’s toughest circuits, a long way from the dusty back roads around Victorville.

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