Thursday, March 11, 2010 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . March 11, 2010 . . . Jockey James Lopez, 32, earned his 1,000th career win Thursday when he guided Dance Hall Darlin to her maiden score in the ninth race at Turfway Park.
A native of San Antonio, Lopez grew up on the Louisiana and Kentucky racing circuits as his father, also a jockey, plied his trade. His grandfather was a jockey as well. With that heritage to inspire him, Lopez began galloping horses at age 12, and at age 16, against his father's wishes, quit school and took out his jockey's license. He rode his first winner in 1996 at Retama Park.
In March 2005 at Turfway, Lopez shattered a collarbone when a horse fell on him leaving the gate. The injury not only forced Lopez out of the saddle but also forced him to acknowledge that he was unhappy, burned out on riding. He left racing altogether, and after the collarbone healed, he worked building scaffolding for oil rigs and laying ceramic tile. He also used the time to study for the General Educational Development test and earned his high school equivalency diploma. He returned to riding in 2007 at Ellis Park and won with his first mount back.
Lopez has riding titles at Oaklawn Park, Louisiana Downs and Turfway Park. He has won 45 stakes races including four Grade 3 events: the 2000 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park, the 2002 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park, the 2002 Turfway Park Fall Championship at Turfway, and the 2009 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, his most lucrative win to date.