Rafael Bejarano dominated the Del Mar jockey standings from 2012-2016, winning five straight summer meeting titles and only sharing one, the 2016 crown with Flavien Prat.
But in the past two years the 37-year-old native of Peru has seen the youth of Prat, 27, and Drayden Van Dyke, 24, serve themselves the championships. Prat won outright in 2017 with 35 wins to 29 for co-runners-up Bejarano and apprentice Evin Roman. Van Dyke out-duelled Prat last summer, 42-37, with Bejarano, who had suffered a broken wrist earlier in the year, finishing out of the top 10.
With the first three weeks of the 2019 season complete, it’s still the Prat and Van Dyke show – they’re tied for the lead with 17 wins apiece. But hot on their trail, with 13 wins is Bejarano.
Asked if this is the year that Bejarano reclaims the crown, his agent, Tora Yamaguchi, said: “We hope so. But we know it’s a tough (riding) colony here.”
Bejarano wasted no time in signaling that a better Del Mar year was in the offing for him. He won the first race of the meeting aboard Julius, having been given a leg up by Doug O’Neill, who now leads the trainer standings with 13 wins, three ahead of Peter Miller.
Bejarano rode the anchor two wins in O’Neill’s record-tying five-win day a week ago and the Bejarano-O’Neill combination has struck for six wins already in the meeting. Bejarano was aboard for three of the seven winners for trainer Bob Hess, Jr., from 20 starters that has him third behind O’Neill and Peter Miller (10) in the trainer standings.
“We ride for a lot of trainers, but Doug O’Neill has always been a loyal client.,” Yamaguchi said. “He has always liked Rafael and thought Rafael is a strong rider.”
While Prat and Van Dyke will likely spend time away from Del Mar on assignments in the East, Bejarano – booked to ride Cougar II Stakes winner Campaign in the TVG Pacific Classic – has no such plans.
“As of now, we’re here for the meeting,” Yamaguchi said. “We’re not going anywhere.”