Riding champ Luis Torres back in the saddle after injury
It was a long five months for jockey Luis Torres this spring and summer. The 29 year-old jockey spent his days resting in his Vancouver, Washington home, watching his four year-old daughter Keiley, and heading to physical therapy appointments. But the desire to get back to riding horses was always present in the house.
On the morning of April 22nd earlier this year, Torres was at Emerald Downs, working a two year old, helping to teach and prepare the horse to begin it’s racing career. As he was beginning to gallop the horse, a pair of runners who were working in company came flying by him and his horse.
“My horse just spooked and took a right turn,” said Torres. “He just ran sideways and squished my boot between the horse and the outside railing.”
Torres had broken his ankle. He went into surgery and had six screws placed in his ankle to help to repair the shattered bones. He was ordered to take five months off by his doctors. This meant he would not only miss the remainder of the season at Emerald Downs, but also the first couple of months at Portland Meadows, where he was coming off a dominating season that saw him score 86 Thoroughbred wins, 21 more than his nearest competitor. He also won 23 of 77 Quarter Horse starts giving him a total of 109 wins over the sixty-day race meet.
Torres came to the United States in 2001. He was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and grew up in Zacatecas, which is about an hour north of Guadalajara. He’s pretty tall for a jockey, standing 5 feet 7 inches and generally tacking about 120 pounds. He won his first race in Kennewick at Sun Downs in 2007 about Koyote Kiot and his career was off and running. He won 59 Thoroughbred races in 2008, 79 in 2009, 98 in 2010, and 99 in 2011. His breakthrough year was 2012 when he shot to the top of the standings at Portland Meadows, as well as winning races at Emerald Downs and the Oregon fair. He tallied 110 Thoroughbred wins and countless more Quarter Horse victories during the calendar year.
Torres won the Portland Meadows' signtature race, the Portland Mile, in 2012 with Deacon Speakin for trainer Steve Fisher. His biggest career win came on October 29, 2011 for trainer Bill Hoburg when they won the $125,000 Distance Challenge Championship at Los Alamitos with Yin Your Eyes.
Torres was shaping up for the Emerald Downs season as well as to defend his title at Portland Meadows this season when he broke his ankle.
“I spent most of the time off just sitting at home,” said Torres. “My wife was going to college during the days, so I just stayed home and rested and took care of my daughter. Actually she kind of took care of me.”
Luis is very much a family man, as almost every day he rides his wife and daughter are there cheering him on. Torres and his wife Mayra Gonzales would come out to the track and watch the races while he was injured, but even he admits it was tough.
“It was really hard to watch my horses,” said Torres. “Horses that I would have been riding. I would watch and if they lost I would get frustrated because I thought I could have won with them. I always thought I could have done better.”
Torres continued his physical therapy throughout the summer and soon he began galloping horses in the morning, trying not only to get the strength in his ankle back, but also his fitness.
“I think my ankle and muscles got much more strong from working horses than it did from the physical therapy,” Torres said.
September 22nd finally arrived and Torres was cleared to ride again. It had been exactly five months to the day from his injury and he was ready. His agent didn’t waste anytime either, as he put him on six mounts his first day back. Torres didn’t get a win that first day back, but he did have four second place finishes.
“It took me a few days to get my strength back,” said Torres. “I also had to get back into riding shape. Those first few days I was really tired by the end of the day. But today I rode nine races, and I’m feeling pretty good. I was kind of worried that maybe some trainers would be afraid to ride me, because they would be worried I wasn’t healthy. But I really want to say thank you to those trainers and owners for putting me on their horses after my injury.”
One of the trainers who put Torres back on his horses right away was Jonathan Nance. Nance and Torres have partnered up on dozens of winners over the years and according to Nance, the partnership was never in danger, injury or not.
“I’ve been hesitant before about putting riders on after an injury, but not at all with Luis,” said Nance. “He has such good patience, and always rides the race as it comes to him. He doesn’t make bad decisions out there because he’s so patient. Plus he’s a great finisher. He’s always around to work horses in the morning and he knows all of them, so I never once questioned putting him back on my horses right away.”
Torres collected his first win of the season in his second day back, on September 25th when he guided the Nance trained Brinks Baby to a fast closing win. He won three races on his third day back, one the next day and two this past Sunday. Which begs the question, can he defend his jockey title after spotting the field a two month head start?
“I can’t say that I can catch them all and get leading jockey,” said Torres. “I’m going to try really hard to make the trainers I ride for happy. And I’m going to try to get that jockey title as well.”