Last year, on June 17, Peruvian Adolfo Morales rode into town from Canterbury Downs in Minneapolis, won the $30,000 Free Press Stakes on a horse named Shillerthekiller, cashed in his winnings and rode back to the Twin Cities.
Morales also holds the distinction of being the only jockey to ever win all four legs of Peru's Quadruple Crown. He won it in 1992 on a steed named Stash. Only his father, Arturo, has come close to his accomplishment, having ridden the last three legs of the 1973 event, on the winner Santorin.
This year, Morales, who lives in Phoenix, where he races at Turf Paradise during the winter, has chosen Assiniboia Downs as his home for the summer rather than Canterbury Downs, his regular hangout for the past six years.
Last week he served notice he is here to take care of business, by winning five races over three days. They came on Sis Draper on June 1, Grandpa George and Adonia on May 31. On May 29, he rode to victory on Rick the Barber and Bubba's My Name.
He added two more wins on Wednesday, taking Smarty Fawcett and Already There to the winner's circle, upping his record to 14 wins -- a three-way tie with Jennifer Reid and Christopher Husbands for second place in the standings. Last year's champion, Paul Nolan, who won Wednesday on Conventional, is first with 17.
Despite his surge of victories, Morales didn't do all that well in the first stakes race of the year, finishing fifth on Da Hoot in Wednesday's $30,000 six-furlong Golden Boy Stakes for three-year-olds. The winner was Stormin Monarcho, with Adrian Ramos up.
He gets another shot on Saturday when he'll ride Jilleah in the $30,000 six-furlongs La Verendrye Stakes for fillies and mares. It's all part of his tune-up toward defending his Free Press title on June 16 and, from there, on to the $75,000, mile-and-an-eighth Manitoba Lotteries Derby, a race he won in 2009 on Smuggler's Hold.
Asked if his recent block of wins is a sign he is hitting peak form, Morales, 42, said, "I always feel like I am going to win. It wasn't just last week's races, I always try to keep focus on riding good all the time."
A consummate professional, he considers winning races to be his job. The fact Nolan, Reid and Husbands have no intention backing off just makes things more interesting. "I am just trying to do my best," he said, outside the jockey room before entering the sweat box. "The standings is just a number. I don't mind (that they aren't going to lay down), I'm just going to ride hard. I don't think about the standings, I'm just here to win races."
Morales, who began racing in the United States at the age of 17, was born in Lima, where he began his career by galloping horses for his grandfather, Jose, and father, eventually moving up to riding. From Lima, he went on to race in Florida, New York, Minnesota and Phoenix before landing here.
His career also includes a six-month stint in Saudi Arabia in 2000 for then king Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. "That was a really good experience and there was a lot of money involved," he said, adding, "I think one of his sons saw me ride in New York. He tracked me down, found me and so I went to Saudi Arabia.
"They don't bet (on the races) there, so I was just riding for the King. When I was getting paid, I'd see his face on the bills."
While their main home is in Phoenix, where he races at Turf Paradise, Morales has rented a home here in Winnipeg and is anxiously anticipating the arrival in a few days of his wife, Paola, and their 12-year-old daughter, Ximena. "I don't think my son (Alonso), who is turning 18 in a few days, will be here though. It's not easy being apart from the family. I don't think they are going to stay the whole summer, but they're going to try."
RACING WILL CONTINUE DURING THE RED RIVER EX: Saskatchewan Avenue (the backstretch entrance to the Downs) will be available during the Red River Exhibition, June 14-23. Race fans can search "Saskatchewan Avenue Winnipeg map" online for directions.