Despite some ups and downs, jockey Eddie Zuniga, who came to the United States from Mexico in 1992, won the 1,000th race of his career May 24 at Indiana Downs.
Zuniga, 35, hit the mark aboard Shrewd Maria for trainer Danielle Goodman. The jockey gave Goodman her first career win as a trainer last year at Indiana Downs.
Zuniga said he didn't know he had reached the milestone until fellow riders congratulated him the next day at Churchill Downs. On May 28, Indiana Downs recognized him with a winner's circle presentation.
A regular on the Kentucky circuit, Zuniga raced at Indiana Downs last year and finished third in the standings with 48 wins and more than $420,000 in earnings. He said he was touched by the presentation attended by many members of the local riding colony.
"It was such a great presentation," Zuniga said. "I've never had a presentation like that. It's not like it was 5,000 or 6,000. It kind of hit me later on."
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Zuniga first got involved in match races at the age of 12. His father trained show-jump horses, but it was Thoroughbred racing and the attraction to Mexico City's Hipodromo de las Americas that became the rider's focus.
"I was alright, but I wasn't great," Zuniga said of his match-race career. "My goal was always just to be a jockey and race at a big Thoroughbred racetrack."
Once he made it to the big track, he quickly won his share of races. In the first three months, he made 40 trips to the winner's circle. From that point, he was hooked. He then came to the U.S. and became an apprentice at Arlington Park, where he won 18 races in the final month of the meet and garnered leading apprentice honors.
"I went on to Hawthorne and won 12 in the first week," Zuniga said. "Then my head got too big. I went to Aqueduct and didn't like it."
The jockey has since settled on the Midwest circuit with considerable success. In 1998, he earned a riding title at River Downs. In 2004, he matched his success at Indiana Downs with a runner-up finish to Rafael Bejarano at the Turfway Park winter/spring meet. He also finished in the top 10 at Keeneland.
"I love Kentucky; from there you can go anywhere," he said. "It's nice; people around here are very humble. The people have been good to me here."
Zuniga has accomplished more in his career than he had ever anticipated. However, it hasn't been without obstacles. The jockey endured two serious injuries in two consecutive years. In 2000, he shattered his elbow at Ellis Park and was sidelined for six months. When he returned to racing at River Downs in 2001, he suffered a broken hip and was on the shelf for nine months.
"Now that I'm older, I'm just trying to stay healthy," Zuniga said. "I'm just grateful to be riding. I've been very fortunate. It's easy to get hurt. That's why it probably took me so long (to get to 1,000 wins)."