When the Santa Anita Park race meet opens Dec. 26, the jockey colony will feature a formidable addition in Rajiv Maragh.
Maragh said he'd always wanted to compete in Southern California and when agent Nelson Arroyo reached out to him, he decided the timing was right to make the move from his current East Coast base of New York and Florida.
"I've always been a big fan of Southern California racing. I grew up watching it and always admired the top horses and top jockeys to come out of there," Maragh said. "It was always something that I hoped I'd be able to get to do and Nelson reached out to me a few weeks ago. He felt like now would be a good time to come out and that I'd be a good fit in the colony. I felt like I'd give it a shot.
"It's a great place with passionate fans. I'm very excited about this venture in my life," Maragh said.
A four-time Breeders' Cup winner, Maragh has come back from injury this year to win 95 races from 802 starts (through Dec. 14). His 2017 mounts have earned more than $6.8 million, which ranks 25th this season. In the spring, he guided Irish War Cry to victory in the Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) and a runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1).
Maragh, 32, has returned to the top of the game after suffering injuries in a July 10, 2015 spill at Belmont Park that included four fractured vertebrae, a broken rib, and collapsed lung.
His return from those injuries earned him the JockeyTalk360 Comeback Jockey Award for 2017.
In his career Maragh has won 1,781 races from 13,826 starts and purse earnings of $92,620,239. He guided Groupie Doll to victories in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) in 2012 and 2013, Hightail to a win in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, and Caleb's Posse in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
Arroyo loves Maragh's approach to the sport.
"I told him if he'd come out here that I could get him some good horses and he said, 'Nelson, they're all good horses to me. I want to win every race.' That attitude alone got me really excited about working with Rajiv," Arroyo said. "That attitude is hard to find; really hard to find."
Arroyo added that Maragh's versatility will be a great fit in California.
"I've watched his races and seen him win on the dirt, the turf, on the lead, from behind," Arroyo said. "Here, a lot of jockeys have one strong thing to give, some are good on the lead or on the turf; but I was looking for someone with the whole package and he has it."
Maragh is looking forward to competing in Southern California, but acknowledged that one of the most difficult factors in his decision was leaving his many friends and fans on the East Coast.
"It's very hard to leave New York and Florida. New York has been home to me for quite a few years now and the people of New York have been great to me and I've had great opportunities. My family is in Florida, so those are the only drawbacks to moving so far away," Maragh said. "But I feel like once I get settled in there and make it my new home, everything will fall into place."
Maragh has a lot of confidence in Arroyo and is looking forward to working with him.
"I've always wanted to ride there and it's always been something in the back of my mind but I wasn't really thinking about it right now until Nelson reached out," Maragh said. "That's what got me thinking about it."