Flores Knows What He's Talking About

(from track report)
David Flores has never won a Kentucky Derby, or a Santa Anita Derby, for that matter. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know what it takes to win one.

The 35-year-old jockey has ridden in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) five times, his best finish being a third on Free House in 1997. He has ridden in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on four occasions, his closest finish being a second aboard Prime Timber in 1999.

On Saturday, the Tijuana native has his best opportunity yet to win the Santa Anita Derby. He rides 9-5 morning line favorite Atswhatimtalknbout in the 66th edition of the 1 1/8-mile event, the West Coast's final major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

Flores and his long-time agent, Jim Pegram, were faced with a potential blood-is-thicker-than-water decision in advance of the Santa Anita Derby when they had to decide to ride either Atswhatimtalknbout for trainer Ron Ellis, or Domestic Dispute for Bob Baffert, long a supporter of Flores. Pegram's brother, Mike, is one of Baffert's principal clients.

"Domestic Dispute has been running really well," explained Flores, who stood third in the Santa Anita jockey standings with 57 wins entering Wednesday's program. "But Atswhatimtalknbout is a really a good horse. This is a great opportunity for the (Kentucky) Derby. We had a choice and I think we did the right thing. This is the horse's fifth race this year, but we haven't really been pushing him hard and he's learning."

Flores remebers all of his Derby mounts, Kentucky and Santa Anita, and says to win, essentially a rider needs a good horse and a clean trip.

"I finished third with Free House (in the 1997 Kentucky Derby) and fourth on Prime Timber in 1999," Flores said. "Prime Timber ran a good race. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack and when he started passing horses, it was a great feeling. But when I got to the last quarter mile and felt the tank starting to get empty, that feeling disappeared.

"I know what it's like to run in the Derby. You have to take your time, especially on the backside, and when you have the horse, then you have a chance. If you're on the best horse, you just have to find the right spots to go through. The stretch (at Churchill Downs) is very long, so you can find your place and go through. You don't have to go wide. You have a lot of time to make up ground."

Flores has ridden Atswhatimtalknbout in all four of the colt's races. He also was aboard for his final major workout, a five-furlong move in :58.80 on Monday.

"He went in :58 4/5 and felt like he was going very easy the first part," Flores said. "He was working behind another horse (stablemate Red Wing Evan) and we used him as a target. When I asked him to pick it up a little bit, he went by the horse very easy the last quarter of a mile. He finished very well and galloped out really good for the seven-eighths, so I think that sharpened him up."

Flores, one of the nation's premier gate riders, finds himself with a clear view of the opposition when he rides Atswhatimtalknbout, a $900,000 son of 1992 Santa Anita Derby winner A.P. Indy. Atswhatimtalknbout prefers to enjoy the view early on in his races.

"The distance (of the Santa Anita Derby) is going to be great (for him)," Flores said. "The more distance he has, the better, because he relaxes now and he has a long stride where you can place him, wait and make a run. He's learning."

And so has Flores.

"I think I've been pretty solid for the last seven years," Flores said. "As far as the Derby goes, it's just a matter of having the right horse. I've won all kinds of races. I can come from way back, be on the lead or anywhere. When you've got the right horse, you find your way through.

"It's also helpful knowing about the other jockeys, how they ride, what they're doing, the kind of horses they have, what the pace is going to be like. It's important to communicate with the trainers on how to ride each horse every race. That means a lot, to connect and exchange the right ideas."