Skip to main content

Sofia Vives has a tough act to follow this year.

The affable American registered 122 wins and more than US$3.5-million in earnings in 2023, her first full campaign as an apprentice jockey. She ranked second in victories and fourth in earnings across North America and was nominated for both the Eclipse and Sovereign Awards as the top apprentice in the U.S. and Canada, respectively.

Vives was a runner-up to Axel Concepcion in Eclipse Award voting. The Sovereign Awards winners will be named April 18, nine days before Woodbine’s ’24 meet begins.

“That [Sovereign Award] would be a dream come true,” Vives said. “It’s always been a goal of mine and to get it would be a goal achieved.

“But what happens after it is what really matters.”

Vives, 21, was a regular last year at Woodbine while also riding at Fort Erie Racetrack and Pennsylvania’s Parx Racing. Vives had 88 winners from 547 mounts to stand fourth among jockeys at the Toronto oval with purse earnings surpassing $3.8-million (sixth-best).

The 5-foot, 109-pound Vives will remain an apprentice for the first four months of the ’24 season in Canada, meaning she’ll continue racing with a five-pound weight allowance. Then she’ll transfer to a journeywoman and lose the allowance.

“That [allowance] will help for the first few months so we’ll try to take advantage of it as long as we can,” Vives said. “After that, hopefully we can just keep carrying on.”

In 2022, Vives rode in just 16 races, all at Woodbine, landing in the money eight times (four wins, three seconds, one third).

“[In 2022] I just put my toes into the water and got a taste of it and it made me hungrier to come back,” she said. “The more you ride the more you learn … but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

“Every horse is different. They’re animals at the end of the day, their communication is all through feel and your hands and sometimes less is more so you just have to make a team out of you and the horse … it’s just you two.”

And whatever the jockey is feeling – be it confidence, fear or trepidation – the horse can quickly sense it also.

“I believe animals feed off of energy,” Vives said. “I mean you’re sitting on top of a horse and you’re steering it with a piece of metal in its mouth so you have to be light, you have to be quiet … you’re their coach, basically.

“You must be confident out there, you must think you’re the best rider and have the best horse in every race.”

And, win or lose, not dwell upon the result.

“You have five seconds of fame or five seconds of failure but when those five seconds are done you must move on,” she said. “At the end of the day after all of your races, you can go over your replays on your own time and that’s your time to reflect.

“After that, a new day is coming.”

Vives comes by her chosen profession honestly. Both her father, Lazaro, and late uncle Juan Carlos, were riders with Lazaro Vives working for some 20 years with Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, 15 times Canada’s top conditioner.

Not surprisingly, Vives is also riding horses for Casse – on the track or at his training centre in Ocala, Fla. – while also training at Quantum Human Performance.

“Horses and working out,” Vives said regarding her off-season regimen. “Mark and Tina [Casse’s wife] are family to me and I’m very grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me.”

Vives’s goals for 2024 are to earn stakes victories and hopefully contend for another Sovereign Award nomination. As a jockey in Canada, naturally the $1-million King’s Plate is on her radar.

“That’s the Kentucky Derby of Canada,” she said with a chuckle. “The goal is always in the back of your mind but you need to take one day at a time.

“There are smaller goals in front of that … but to have a chance in a race like that is truly one in a million.”

And regardless of whatever each day holds, Vives plans to approach it the same way.

“I believe, be it in the morning or at night, you always must have a smile on your face,” she said. “Whatever happens with one horse and one trainer does not go to the next.

“I’ve always wanted to ride races my whole life, it’s not a job to me. I’d go out every day of the week if I could to get on horses.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe