With long list of accomplishments, jockey C.C. Lopez not short on confidence - 01/06/14
There are some people who just get it. C.C. Lopez just gets it. The veteran jockey knows what he is still capable of, even if others have forgotten. On a frozen Saturday at Aqueduct Lopez has two chances to do what he has done more than forty-two hundred times before, win. When his first mount scratched out of the third race, Lopez entered the paddock for the fourth to chants of "C-C. C-C. C-C.".
"When I am out there I know they are cheering for me," he said. "And that's a good feeling."
Lopez's passion for racing is written all over his 52 year-old face. His wide smile is met with a firm handshake from the connections of Dixie Sparkle. It is no secret to anyone what the goal is.
After talking strategy with some seasoned horseplayers around the paddock, Lopez, in his bright pink silks, and Dixie Sparkle trot out onto the track.
"I have what I think is a pretty good rapport with the fans,"Lopez said. "When they talk to me I talk back to them. When they ask me if I like a horse I tell them whether I do or I don't."
Aqueduct's winterized inner track is a welcomed sight for the long-time jockey who is looking to make the most out of his mounts on the card. The cold air hits Lopez square in the face as he gallops out along the dirt. Lopez does not seem to notice. It's the four most important parts of a jockey's body, he says, that get the worst of the 20 degree temperatures.
"You're riding with next to nothing out there. A pair of underwear, a simple t-shirt or sweater for some type of insulation."
As the gate flies open, it is no mistake when C.C. pushes Dixie Sparkle to the early lead. She loves to run early. It is a running style Lopez always likes to see in the horses he rides.
"As long as there isn't a shortage of speed horses I think I can ride as long as the business will have me" Lopez explained.
C.C. and his filly have no trouble controlling the early pace. But could Dixie Sparkle outrun these rivals over six chilly furlongs? The all important answer comes one powerful stride after another. But as many jockeys know, winning a horse race is never that easy. Gambling Geraldine and jockey Abel Castellano Jr. decided to roll the dice. Castellano Jr., wearing pink silks of his own, came to match Lopez in the stretch.
"Preferably, I'd rather not have company," he says with a chunk of Aqueduct inner track dirt caked on his right cheek. "But if I have to have company it's just a matter of going into your bag of tricks."
Lopez went to the whip. First on the right, then on the left. Despite being neck and neck halfway down the lane, the veteran jockey knew the outcome was never in doubt.
"The other horse had ample time to get by me and when he didn't, it was just - try to hold her together." Lopez proudly adds, "Riders that ride for 40 years know how to do that."
Leftover snow from a recent storm covers the Winner's Circle, but a makeshift one did not put a damper on the victory for a smiling Lopez.
"Anyone can do it if the horse wants to run," he says giving credit credit where credit is due.
As he hustles back inside, out of the bitter cold, Dixie Sparkle walks off the track with her head high knowing she earned this victory just as much as her jockey.
One of the many highlights of C.C. Lopez's long career, came in 2001 and 2002. That is when Lopez rode Arromanches to 17 victories including a stretch of nine wins in a row. Now, more than a decade removed from that accomplishment, Lopez has not changed the way he approaches the game.
"You're only as good as your horse and when you're talking heads and noses, experience is what really prevails" Lopez says beaming with confidence.
The dropping temperatures at The Big A only add to Lopez's cool demeanor. The goal for 2014, as Lopez put it is, "To stay relevant in a game that forgets us from one horse to the next."
"Let them know I can compete with anybody. With Javier (Castellano) and Johnny Velasquez. I am just as good as they are" he says as that piece of inner track dirt finally trickles down his face and onto the floor.
With a type of confidence that is not at all quiet, and deservedly so, Lopez is making sure the world of thoroughbred racing continues to chant "C-C. C-C. C-C."