Sonny León: «My dream was to run in the Kentucky Derby»

Sonny Leon
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Never before in his career as a jockey the Venezuelan Sonny Leon32 years old, had won such a great and important race As the Kentucky Derby. The rider born in the town of Quebrada de Apa, near Colonia Tovar, Aragua state, the first thing he thought when he crossed the line was: “I did it. I made it»as he raised his fist in a victorious salute to the 147,294 spectators present, including his wife and one-year-old and two-month-old daughter, who was attending a racetrack for the first time.

lion came out on Rich Striker from the starting line at the mythical Churchill Downs track last in the betting (80-1) and, in a matter of seconds, overtook the great favorites of the race in the 148th edition of the Kentucky Derby. Thus, he became the second Venezuelan to achieve such a feat after Gustavo Ávila did it in 1971 on Cañonero II.

In that moment of euphoria and triumph, the only sure thing for Sonny León was that he had all 19 horses behind him. And so he confessed in an interview for Hall of Fame member Ramón Alfredo Domínguez on YouTube. In the conversation, León pointed out that from the beginning of the race he tried to save ground, a strategy that paid off.

“My dream was to run the Kentucky Derby. I calmed down a lot I had a lot of patience, I trusted my horse and it worked», he pointed. The jockey earned $1.86 million for taking first place, the second most surprising win in Kentucky Derby history. However, behind that great prize, there are many years of effort, dedication and victories in other minor races.

His beginnings as a rider date back to his youth. Although he is the only one in his family involved in the sport, his dad always supported him and even motivated him to dedicate himself to horse racing. In an interview for Agents 305, León told his story and revealed that since he was a child his father told him that he should be a jockey since he was never given it because of his height and his weight. “That’s where my story began. My dad wanted me to be a jockey, he always dreamed of being a jockey but he didn’t give it to him, he didn’t have the family support to achieve it, “he revealed.

Already at the age of six, Leon had ridden a horse for the first time. At 10 he started going to races and from then on he began to get familiar with the thrill of being a jockey. Little by little, his desire to be a part of that world grew. “When I was 15 years old I told my dad: I finished studying and that’s it, nothing more, neither university nor anything,” he said in the interview.

The beginning

Determined and convinced that being a jockey was his thing, León began at the academy of Ciudad Bolívar, Rancho Alegre, in 2007. After graduating and having his debut in horse racing, León decided to stay and participate in other races organized by the racetrack. “After so many years I saw the fruits of that effort,” he revealed to Carlos Morales, the moderator of the interview.

At that racecourse he won several races. «I started to win fast. They chose me to compete against the professionals », he said. In 2008 they told him that he was ready to go racing with the greats at the La Rinconada racecourse. Finally, after facing various legal obstacles, he decided to go to La Rinconada. There it took him two years to obtain the title of professional whip by overcoming 60 victories.

He galloped in La Rinconada for several years, until 2015, the year in which he decided to emigrate.

Without papers and without knowing English

“God’s time is perfect. In 2015 I got my visa again, to have my papers again. That year my visa was approved in April for 10 years and in May I was already in the United States and in June I was riding », he said.

In the United States he began riding in Gulfstream Park, a Florida track where he was for a short period of time. On June 25, 2015, he achieved his first victory on American soil. It was on the track in Florida.

Since then, León has raced in minor races. He kept riding, galloping what he could and charging what he could, “as do many jockeys in the United States,” he noted.

In November he decided that he could not stay in Florida because he did not have the papers or an agent to help him establish himself as a jockey. Decided to go to Kentucky and ended up at Turfway Park. “He didn’t have the name or the weight to be a Florida jockey,” he explained.

It was in December of that year that he finally returned to horseback riding and racing without knowing English. not have an agent. He managed to get his license and, little by little, he showed his talent at a gallop. After several victories at the Mahoning Valley Racecourse he managed to become a Leader Jockey on the track, a position he currently holds.

In your record, León adds 770 victories in the United Statesaccording to the American media equibase. In addition to being the second Venezuelan to win the Kentucky Derby, he is one of the best Venezuelan jockeys in the history of horse racing.

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