When James Flores ran away with his third riding title in a row at Remington Park this year, he reached a personal goal that no one knew about.
“I won 62 races this meet,” Flores said of his third title in Oklahoma City. “That was 10 more than I won in 2019. I have to continue to motivate myself with new goals. Maybe I can win 72 next year.”
It’s funny to hear that huge number when you look back to the beginning of his official riding career.
“I was about 17 or 18 years old when I won my first official race at Lone Star Park,” said Flores, who has a home in Claremore, Okla. “I rode about 60 more without winning and then won one more at the end of the meet. My dad said, ‘Well, you’re not winning, maybe you should think about doing something else,’.”
That didn’t set well with Flores. If anything, it fueled his desire to do this for a living even more. After all he had reached his goal that season in Grand Prairie, Texas.
“My goal was to win one race,” he said. “When I did that, my next goal was to win one more. I started trying to ride when I was 14 years old and my dad brought home a Thoroughbred for me to practice on. He was really slow, but I didn’t know anything then. I never fell off, though.”
Now he has won the 2019 American Quarter Horse Association Champion Jockey award for the best rider in the country and his third title at Remington Park. He credits the opportunities given to him by trainer Roberto Madrigal in the beginning, a multiple graded stakes winner. He also throws out the umbrella of credit to former jockeys G.R. Carter and Alex Baldillez for giving him sage advice. It has carried him to where he is now.
“They told me to let the horse run,” Flores said, meaning not to discourage the horse by trying to control it. “They also told me to be still on the horse’s back.”
Flores’ 62 wins came from 262 mounts (24% winners). He also had 37 seconds and 32 thirds for an in-the-money rate of 50%. He blew away the competition for horses’ money earned with $1,731,673, almost a million dollars more than runner-up Ricky Ramirez ($863,132).
The biggest win of his career came last year when he won Quarter Horse racing’s biggest race, the $3 million All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.
“It’s humbling because I come from a poor background in Harlingen, Texas,” said Flores. It’s probably why my dad thought I might want to try something else (not winning right away). He thought you should be a big winner as soon as you started. But I knew I could do it.”
As he crossed the finish line in the All American Futurity, his thoughts grew clear.
“All the hard work and hard times finally came to fruition,” he said. “I had finished third in the All American in 2016, so it made me hungry for this.”
The money has given him time to tinker with his race cars and trucks. Yes, he likes to race those, too. Better jockey or better race-car driver?
“One certainly pays better than the other,” he laughed. “But I’ve won some (car and truck) races and my friends tell me I’m pretty good. I just like the speed. That’s why I did Quarter Horses instead of Thoroughbreds. I love the speed.”
The speed, and winning, loves Flores. Just look at the stats.