Nik Juarez  at Gulfstream Park

Nik Juarez at Gulfstream Park

Courtesy of Gulfstream Park

Hard Work Paying Off for Juarez at Gulfstream

23-year-old jockey holding his own against the world's top riders.

Nik Juarez guided Super Spender to a victory in the $110,000 Claiming Crown Canterbury Stakes at Gulfstream Park Dec. 3 to kick-start a highly successful winter for the 23-year-old jockey.

Riding at Gulfstream for his second season, Juarez has won 39 races to rank fourth in the jockey standings.

"When I went into the championship meet, my goal, honestly, was to win a race a week. Quickly I surpassed that in the first month of the (meet). I was very happy. Now that I'm fourth in the standings, my goal is to get to 50," said Juarez, who rode 21 winners during the 2015-16 championship meet. "I'm just setting reasonable goals for myself and just trying to continue the (meet) the way it's going. It's a dream come true. It's a dream come true being amongst these riders and these horsemen."

Juarez has ridden three stakes winners—Bodacious Babe (Margate), Pretty Perfection (Ladies Turf Sprint), and Super Spender—but his most high-profile score may well have come aboard Forever Plus in a $16,000 claiming race Jan. 16. Forever Plus was the 2,000th winner for trainer Nick Zito, one of Juarez's biggest boosters.

"He's got a great personality. He's a good kid. For a young kid, I can't believe how smart he is," Zito said. "He's definitely going to make it. I'm just delighted. I'm grateful he comes and works my horses. We've got a great team, and as far as I'm concerned, he can ride every single one of my horses."

Juarez was happy to oblige the Hall of Fame trainer.

"I got him his 2,000th winner. It was a great feeling," Juarez said. "We work hard together in the mornings as well as the afternoons. We put our work in, and it's paying off."

Although the up-and-coming rider was born into a Maryland racing family, he had other interests growing up.

"I grew up in a racing family, but I didn't always want to do it. I did a lot of other stuff, like riding dirt bikes," said Juarez, who wrestled and played several sports in high school. "It wasn't until I was 18 that I decided I wanted to ride in races. After that, I've been working hard."

Calixto Juarez, a former jockey and current trainer, put his son on his first winner (Love Heart) on his very first mount Dec. 14, 2013 at Laurel Park. Juarez's father continues to support his son's burgeoning career.

"My dad is my best friend. We talk every day—after the races, before the races," said Juarez, who finished second in the Monmouth Park standings with 69 winners before heading to Gulfstream. "My dad is my biggest support system. I don't have much family, so it's just me and my dad."