Jockey Miguel Mena won his 2,000th career victory in Friday’s fifth race on the second day of the RUNHAPPY Summer Meet at Ellis Park, going wire to wire on Michael Langford's 3-year-old Substantial in the maiden race on turf.
Active on social media, Mena said he learned from Twitter that he was close to the milestone. Mena achieved win 1,998 in high-profile fashion by taking Churchill Downs' Grade 2 Stephen Foster on leading older horse Tom's d'Etat. No. 1,999 came on Ellis' opening card.
“A lot of folks were posting how I was two away, three away and I was one away today,” said Mena, Ellis Park's 2006 riding champion. “I’ve been riding since I was 16. I came to America when I was 17 years old. Two thousand wins, a lot of hard work went into it, and it has paid off.”
The native of Peru began riding in America in 2003. Now 33, Mena has earned at least $1 million in purse earnings every year since 2005. He has won at least 100 races every year since 2006, with the exception of 2018, when he was sidelined much of the year after sustaining eight fractures to his ankle and heel in a riding mishap. Delaying his recovery was the fact that surgery wasn’t possible because of the development of massive blisters that made the risk of infection too great.
But Mena came back with a vengeance last year, his $6.5 million in purses his highest in seven years. For his persistence, Mena was chosen recipient of the Fair Grounds’ first Randy Romero “Pure Courage” Award.
The jockey, who won 50 races in Peru, says back then he couldn’t have imagined winning 2,000 races in the United States.
“I never did,” he said. “I came with a lot of dreams. I came very hungry to work my butt off. I’m so grateful to this country. It has given me a better life, not only for me but for my family in Peru as well. I’m very thankful to America.”
Mena’s 15,395 career mounts have earned purses exceeding $68.5 million. While now still in his prime, the jockey’s statistics might have been even more impressive had a drinking problem at age 22 not threatened to derail his promising career. A turning point came when he married his wife, April, in 2011, the couple subsequently having daughters Naelah and Montserrat.
“We all grow up different. I appreciate the ups and downs that I’ve been through,” he said. “It has taught me a lot; it has made me mature. Things are going the right way. I just knock on wood to keep it that way.”
Asked about achieving 3,000 wins, Mena said, “Well, we’re going to work for it. Ten more years, who knows? We’ll keep on working hard.”