Rookie jockey on fast track

SCOTT UNGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

He's the new guy in the jockey's locker-room at Assiniboia Downs this season, but that hasn't stopped David Lopez from showing the familiar faces next to him a thing or two about winning races.

Heading into this weekend's racing, Lopez, who has migrated to Winnipeg from San Diego for the summer, is tied for second in the jockeys' standings with Mark Anderson at 19 wins apiece.

After spending the last couple of seasons as an apprentice jockey at tracks in his home state of California, Lopez is extremely happy with his decision to head north after being beckoned by trainer Clay Brinson.

"We got off to a good start, started turning some heads and we just want to keep it going," Lopez said.

When jockeys finish their apprenticeship -- also known as a bug -- they usually look for a place to continue their career where they can get a lot of starts. That's exactly was Lopez has found at the Downs.

"I was just about to lose the bug and transition to a journeyman," Lopez said of how his career path has landed him in Winnipeg. "You always want to look for a spot to go when you do that, so that you can do well when you turn into a journeyman."

And he has capitalized. In addition to his 19 wins in 99 starts, Lopez has been in money in 49% of his races and has a 19% winning percentage.

Lopez says his success with the Brinson stable has quickly spiraled into other trainers wanting him to mount their horses.

"I am getting to a lot of outside barns ... and we're winning a lot of races every week," he said.

"You can't put all your eggs in one basket. It's good because I definitely need these other clients to start putting me on these horses if I am going to stay second or move into first in the standings."

His only complaint about Winnipeg so far?

"The weather isn't as nice," he said referring to sunny California, adding the social environment around the west side track more than makes up for it.

"I've come to Winnipeg and met nothing but good people. There's good horsemen here and I'm enjoying it."

Lopez has been impressed so much that he intends to return to race at Assiniboia Downs next summer and hopes to leave a lasting impression in the record books.

"I'd love to have a leading rider title somewhere," he said.

"With my clientele that I have got going here now, next year I'll be twice as strong."

But that could prove to be a hefty challenge with longtime veteran Alan Cuthbertson still at the track. Cuthbertson has 30 wins this season and is showing no signs of letting up.

"Alan is pretty tough to beat. All I can do is give him a run for his money," Lopez said. "He's going to be tough to catch."

The season at Assiniboia Downs wraps up in late September, but that only means a new one begins for Lopez somewhere else. He will return to California to race at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate during the winter.

"It's really tough down there, but with hard work and dedication I think I'll be all right down there," he said.


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