By Dick Jerardi
When he was growing up in his native Puerto Rico, Carlos Mercado was drawn to the sights and sounds of the racetrack on the island, El Commandante (now Camarero), 20 minutes outside San Juan.
“My mom brought me to the racetrack for the first time when I was a young kid,” Mercado said. “I loved the horses, the jockeys, the trainers.”
He wanted to be a rider, but became too big too fast and had to be content with galloping a few horses on the beach in his late teen years.
“That was my dream,” Mercado said. “I was so heavy. I dropped weight to 129, but one day I passed out.”
That was the sign he was not going to be a jockey.
“In my beginnings, I was a singer in Puerto Rico,” Mercado said.
So he sang Merengue and Reggaeton while plotting a way to be part of horse racing.
“I couldn’t be a rider so I said, ‘I need to be on the racetrack; work with the riders,’” Mercado remembered. “I said I’m going to be an agent. I enjoy my work. When they’re riding, I’m riding.”
He represented many of the better riders in Puerto Rico, but he wanted more.
“If I stay here, I’ll never win a Kentucky Derby,” Mercado said to himself. “I’ll never win a Breeders’ Cup. Big races.”
When he came to Parx in 2010, he started with Roberto Rosado and Luis Hiraldo. Now, he has Dexter Haddock and Anthony Nunez. They are just names to most people, but in Mercado’s world, Haddock is “The Black Panther” and Nunez “The Golden Boy”.
“I am the kind of person that wants to promote my riders differently,” Mercado said. “I love to give them funny names because when you promote something different then people say ‘oh, I like that.’”
When one of his riders wins a race, Mercaco puts out videos with music on Facebook. Like he said, he’s different.
“I think you need to create new things because the world is moving different every day,” Mercado said.
He also does the grunt work.
“I am the kind of person, I get to my house, I’m working hard on the condition book, watching replays; I’m different,” Mercado said.
He is definitely that.
Mercado has worked with Haddock since the jockey’s career began in 2017. Haddock has already won 211 races and his mounts have earned nearly $6 million.
“I go to Puerto Rico and one rider said, ‘I got a kid for you, this kid is humble, hard working in the morning,’” Mercado remembered.
So he watched Haddock, knew instinctively he was going to be good and brought him to Parx.
“I said, ‘this kid’s got it,’” Mercado said.
The kid has it: Haddock was Leading Apprentice Jockey at Parx that first year.
Mercado picked up Nunez after he lost his bug.
“I watched Anthony for a long time when he was a bug,” Mercado said. “When he lost the bug, the agent fired him. I said. ‘the agent is crazy, this guy is going to be a good rider.’”
Starting in 2017 like Haddock, Nunez has 76 career wins and $2 million in mount earnings. He is closing on $1 million in 2019. Agent and jockey have been together for just six months.
“I love working,” Mercado said. “I don’t sleep.”
Actually, he thinks he sleeps about five hours per night.
“I’m working on the condition book until 1 o’clock in the morning and I wake up like 5:30,” Mercado said.
And then he heads to Parx to talk to trainers to get his jockeys some mounts in races so they can win and he can put their performances to music.