The Coa family riding tradition will continue this winter when jockey Kieber Coa begins his apprentice career in the United States.
Coa, 19, is the son of journeyman Eibar Coa. He is expected to arrive in Florida early next week from Panama, where he graduated from the Laffit Pincay Jr. Jockey School on Dec. 2.
Young Coa will ride the first race of his career at Presidente Remon Racetrack in Panama City on Dec. 8. He has two mounts on the card, both in debut events for 2011 graduates of the school. He’ll ride in Florida at Gulfstream Park the following week, but plans to continue on to Southern California shortly thereafter to launch his promising career at the Santa Anita meet that opens Dec. 26. Agent Joe Ferrer, who also holds the book of top rider Rafael Bejarano, will handle his business.
“The kid was an exceptional athlete in high school, both in baseball and basketball,” said Ferrer. “He eventually got passed up because of his height, but he has talent. He has a great personality and is very bright; he’s fluent in both Spanish and English.
“I’ve seen films of him, and he looks very good. He was galloping in New York before he went to Panama, so he got a head start on these other guys. From what I’ve seen he looks very good on a horse.”
Coa was born in Venezuela but grew up in the U.S. from age 2 while his father was amassing 22 riding titles en route to victory in more than 4,000 races (including the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, gr. I, aboard Big Drama). The elder Coa, 40, was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down after fracturing his C-4 vertebra in a racing accident at Gulfstream on Feb. 18. In spite of being designated a quadriplegic with little hope for recovery, he beat the odds and is now walking on his own and progressing toward what he hopes will be a full recuperation.
“About a week after I got here, my dad had the accident,” the younger Coa said Dec. 6 at Presidente Remon. “I had to decide if this was still something I wanted to do. He called me from the hospital and said, ‘It’s your decision, I’ll support you whatever you decide.’ I grew up watching him ride all my life and always wanted to be a jockey. I didn’t want to give that up. For me, he was the biggest motivation.”
Coa said his father recommended that he attend the Panamanian jockey school because of its record of producing highly successful riders throughout history—from Manuel Ycaza and Braulio Baeza to Alex Solis and Cornelio Velasquez. Eddie Castro, Jose Lezacno, Fernando Jara, and Gabriel Saez are more recent graduates of the school.
“The first thing I said to him when he came here was, ‘Your dad is very famous and one of the best, but you have to do things for yourself,’ said Concepcion Barria, an instructor with the jockey school. “I told him, ‘Your father can only provide good advice for you; other than that you have to make your own way in the world.’ He never tried to rest on his father’s name. He worked hard. I know the boy is capable to do well in the United States. He’s very smart and learns very fast.”
Jason Shandler contributed to this story