By Dick Jerardi
It was the summer of 2006. Two years into his riding career, Josue Arce hatched an ingenious plan that would end up with him on a Grade I winner.
Arce had ridden Malibu Mint when she broke her maiden for trainer James Chapman at Calder. She was 12-1 that day and won by 5 1/4 lengths. Chapman had brought Malibu Mint to Kentucky the next year, but she didn’t run well in two Keeneland stakes and then stumbled out of the gate, losing her jockey at the start of the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on the day Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby,
So, Arce got the ride on May 27, 2006 when Malibu Mint was second by a neck at 50-1 in the Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. The trainer headed back to Florida, but Malibu Mint stayed behind and Arce was getting on her every day.
He wanted to know when she was going to run next. Kept asking and nobody would tell him. Finally, the
horse’s groom said: “Arce, I think he’s going to take her to Florida for a Grade I race.’’The groom did not know when the race was going to be run so he told Arce to look it up in the condition book. He found out the Grade I Princess Rooney was going to be run at Calder on July 15.
So he called Chapman and said if you need me (in Kentucky) from July 12 to July 16, “I won’t be here. I will be in Florida.’’
“Why?’’ Chapman asked.
“I’m going down to Miami to see my family,’’ Arce said. “Hopefully, I get one or two mounts and they see me ride again.’’
And Chapman told him: “you might be in the right place at the right time.’’
“Really, why?’’ Arce asked innocently.
“I’m going to run in the Princess Rooney and if you are going to be there, you might as well ride her,’’ Chapman said.
“You kidding me?’’ Arce replied.
The plan had worked perfectly.
Now, he just had to get from Louisville to Miami. He flew the day of the race. He wasn’t going to see his family at all. He missed his first flight and got there late.
“It was close,’’ Arce said. “I know the clerk of scales. I had him on the phone. He shouldn’t have allowed me to ride the horse. I was there so late. I was `man, I’m going to get caught in a lie because I told him I was going to be there.’ It was meant to be.’’
Indeed it was. Malibu Mint was 23-1 in the Princess Rooney. Dubai Escapade, ridden by Edgar Prado, was 1-5.
“We passed the three-eighths (pole) and I just started making my move and I remember Prado asking and I’m full of horse and I’m `oh my God, I’m going to win.’’’
In fact, Malibu Mint crushed the field, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Dubai Escapade was off the board.
It was a $500,000 race. The winner’s share was $294,000 so Arce got $29,400.
“I blew it,’’ he said.
But he had a story for the ages. Arce rode Malibu Mint a few weeks later when she was second in the Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga. Malibu Mint finished her career with seven wins and five seconds from 25 starts, with earnings of $723,829. In six starts with Arce, Malibu Mint had two wins, three seconds, a third and $366,169 in earnings. Arce never rode her again after that Saratoga race, but, in a riding career that went from 2004 to 2018 and included 393 wins, that Princess Rooney, the win and how he made it happen, will be a forever memory.
Arce told that story last Wednesday at his Parx barn where he is now a trainer, the weight he always battled, was finally too much to overcome so he made the transition to training last year.
He groomed and walked horses in Puerto Rico before moving to Miami where he became a jockey after finding a way to reduce from 130 pounds. Eventually, he worked his way to Parx where he had some success as a jockey and exercise rider over a career that included $8.8 million in earnings and a career-best 77 wins in 2008.
Arce and trainer Scott Lake had and have a very close relationship.
“Scott taught me a lot about the condition book, how to enter,’’ Arce said. “He’s just a brilliant guy, such a smart person. He knows how to take care of the horse, how to keep him sound, how to keep him happy.’’
Arce has 13 horses in his barn for three owners. That he gets on all his horses in the morning is a nice edge that so far he has parlayed into 7 wins, 13 seconds and 15 thirds from 96 starters.
He does not miss riding races. Trying to constantly lose weight just became too much. Now, he is all the way up to 140 pounds, much more reasonable for someone around 5-7 or 5-8.
Training horses requires attention to detail considering all possibilities and being ready for any opportunity. When he was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime back in 2006, Josue Arce found a quite creative way to take advantage. That kind of quick thinking will serve him quite well as a trainer.