David Lopez is on quite a tear at Assiniboia Downs -- one that has him on course for his best season ever.
"I don't think anything has changed as far as my riding," said the 30-year-old native of San Diego. "Everything is just clicking this year. I am getting the right mounts and I have a great agent (four-time Assiniboia Downs leading jockey Tim Gardiner). Every race we are on something that has a shot to win. This year it just seems we've really upgraded our stock."
Lopez currently sits on top of the Downs' standings with 196 starts for 44 wins (including the Chantilly Stakes on June 15 and the R.C. Anderson Stakes on July 15). Trailing him are Janine Stianson (198 and 29) and Rohan Singh (135 and 29).
A quick look at his overall record for 2011 (which includes races at Portland Meadows), Lopez has had 400 rides for 71 wins and $470,742 in earnings. In 2010 he finished with 691 starts and 73 wins for $502,111 in earnings. His best season was 2008 when he had 775 trips for 79 wins and $646,911 in earnings.
Based on those Equibase stats Lopez is well into his best year ever.
"There is no doubt about it, Tim and I both click," he said, crediting his agent for much of his success. "I believe we both have the same type of riding style. We're both really aggressive, we get a lot of run out of our horses, and our personalities are pretty much alike. We like to joke and laugh. Another thing I have to say is that Timmy knows everybody here on the backside, and that is a great advantage to our outfit."
For the first time since he arrived at the Downs in 2007, Lopez feels he has a legitimate chance to win Monday's $75,000 mile-and-an-eighth Manitoba Lotteries Derby. His mount is a dapple gray colt by the name of El Grayling (expected morning line odds of 2-1), and he says this horse has class.
"I've been on him one time in the morning, and worked him five eighths, just a little maintenance before the big race. I've also watched a few of his races, and we definitely are a competitor in the Derby."
The Derby is the showcase event over four days of long weekend racing at the Downs featuring five stakes races.
Friday night features the $15,000 Gold Strike Mile for Manitoba-bred three-year-old fillies. The mile-and-one-sixteenth R.J. Speers Stakes for three-year-olds and older goes Saturday with $25,000 on the line.
On Sunday the $25,000 mile-and-one-sixteenth Winnipeg Sun Stakes holds the spotlight.
On Monday, along with the Derby, will be the $25,000 five-and-one-half furlongs Graduation Stakes for two-year-olds and the $50,000 one-mile Assiniboia Oaks for three-year-old fillies.
El Grayling and Lopez will be in some pretty tough company Monday. They can expect serious challenges from Hammers Bullet (3-1) with Mark Anderson up and trained by Clay Brinson.
Also ready to poke his nose in and capture the race is Gotatigerbythetail (5-1). Trained by nine-time leading trainer Ardell Sayler and with Singh in the saddle, this gray gelding isn't going to be a pushover.
Rounding out the field is: Pulgarcito (7-2), with Tyrone Nelson; U R Burnin Daylite (8-1), with Ry Eikleberry; OK Indy (10-1), with Perry Winters; Flexiplus (12-1), with Rocco Bowen; Big Blue Caboose (15-1), with Jocelyne Kenny; Tannat (25-1), with Dean Butler.
Lopez says that he and El Grayling are the right fit. "Some horses won't show you what they've really got in the morning, but in the afternoons they do. If you get along with the horse and it isn't rearing up and it does everything you want to do, you know you kind of fit that horse.
"As for this particular horse, he fits just spectacularly."
63rd running of
Post positions for the 2011 $75,000 Manitoba Derby, Aug. 1
3. Big Blue Caboose
4. Hammers Bullet
5. U R Burnin Daylite
6. El Grayling
7. OK Indy