EMOTIONS will run high if star jockey Marcelino Pedroza Jr springs a surprise on longshot O Besos in the Kentucky Derby.
The Panamanian rider has overcome serious injuries to ride in the big race for the first time – and he has also had to deal with the loss of his mum to brain cancer.
Pedroza Jr, 28, is a graduate of the legendary Laffit Pincay Jockey Academy in Panama and he has been breaking records in Indiana – which is one of the quieter racing circuits in the States.
The famous racing school has produced Derby-winning jock Jorge Velasquez and recent Dubai World Cup winner Luis Saez.
And he is hoping to follow in their footsteps after a tough journey to the top.
He gets his first ever shot at the ‘Run for the Roses’ on Saturday aboard the exciting Greg Foley-trained O Besos.
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He arrived in the US as a teenager 11 years ago unable to speak a word of English.
He broke his collarbone in a horror fall in January 2020, and weeks later he suffered a serious elbow injury which kept him out for most of the year.
And those injury woes came just months after the death of his mum.
“I have been here since 2010, and when I first came I didn’t speak any English which was tough,” he said.
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“There can be hard days when you are a jockey, like when I broke my collarbone and injured my elbow, but my family picks me up and they are very important to me.
“I believe that God will help me and my angel, my mum, is watching over me and helping me along the way.
“She told me to keep going as my wife and kids depend on me, and that’s what I’m doing.
“I live in Louisville with my wife and my daughter who is eight and my son who is six.
“It has not always been easy but to get a ride in this race on a lovely horse like O Besos is a dream come true.
“I grew up watching the Kentucky Derby in Panama, so to be in the race with a ride is very exciting for me and my family."
Pedroza, whose dad was a jockey and whose uncle Martin is a successful rider in Kentucky, has long dreamed of a crack at the Derby.
And he reckons his lightly-raced horse, who was third in the Louisiana Derby last time out, isn’t without a chance
He told Bloodhorse: "He's doing so nicely. You think you're galloping, but he's picking 'em up, picking 'em up. He has a good kick.
“I believe in the horse, and he keeps improving. He is a lovely horse to ride and I think he goes there with a chance.
“He ran green in the Risen Star Stakes and got a little bit tired on his first time going long.
“But after that race he was getting and better in his work and he ran great in the Louisiana Derby.
“Let's see what happens on the first Saturday in May. I know he's feeling good. I’m excited.
“Hopefully, we get a good trip and we can get the job done."
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