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Jockey Felipe Valdez

Horse Racing Stories

Jockey Felipe Valdez Returns to Riding and the Winners’ Circle

Jockey and Author Aubrie GreenBy: Aubrie Green

Journeyman rider Felipe Valdez, who retired in 2016 following a pair of devastating injuries, resurrected his career when he returned to the saddle in January of this year. Felipe had had a successful career, focusing mostly in California since he began riding in the United States in 1997. However, his success has come with several sidelining injuries that nearly took him out of the game for good.

In 2010, Felipe was unseated from his mount, Score for Fun, at Hollywood Park, suffering a broken back, which nearly retired him, taking him out for almost four years. He then returned to the races in 2014, riding at Emerald downs, Albuquerque, and Zia Park, before taking his tack back to California in December of that year.

Jockey Felipe Valdez

Jockey Felipe Valdez
Photo Credit: Myrka Domínguez

In 2015, Felipe was back in his circuit, riding at Los Alamitos, Santa Anita, Del Mar. He won over 45 races between those tracks before a second injury would sideline him again. In December of that year Felipe went down at Los Alamitos aboard a Doug O’Neil horse, breaking his elbow, clavicle, and ribs, as well as damaging his knee and his back. Rushing his healing because he was determined to ride the upcoming Del Mar meet, Felipe returned to race riding at Santa Anita just a few months later in March, winning a race on his first day back. However, he was only able to ride for two weekends before a third injury changed the course of his career for the third time. While riding aboard El Nino Terrible for trainer Robertino Diodoro, the mount suffered a broken shoulder, and both Horse and rider fell to the ground.

Having reinjured his clavicle, Felipe underwent surgery in which a plate was put in to repair the break. However, following that surgery he was in constant pain. He was receiving injections regularly, but he wasn’t getting any better. It was later discovered that Felipe had suffered damage to his nerves. “My whole arm was numb. I didn’t have feeling in two of my fingers… or from my shoulder, to my elbow, all the way to my fingers.” In addition to his clavicle, Felipe underwent two surgeries repairing his knee, and one repairing his back. Unable to recover fully from the clavicle injury, Felipe had to undergo nine additional surgeries, totaling 13 surgeries, all a result of his fall at Santa Anita. Because he felt he wasn’t getting better, Felipe Announced his retirement later that year.

Despite his announcement to hang up his tack, Valdez never truly gave up hope. “I never stopped doing exercise, I mean I always kept myself swimming. I have two dogs, a Pitbull and an American Bully that I used to go hiking with every day. That was my motivation. Every day they would take me hiking for four, five, six miles.”

Valdez knew that if he was ever able to return to riding, he would like to go to another circuit because all his injuries had occurred in California. Staying active and focusing on healing his body, Felipe held on to hope, all the while staying in contact with a loyal trainer, Todd Fincher, who has played a key role, not only in his career, but in his return to race riding. “When I reached out to Todd, he told me ‘If you want to work, you need to come down here to New Mexico’”.

After nearly seven years off, Felipe’s body has healed, and he is back doing what he loves. On January 1st, 2023, Valdez made his first start back aboard Still in the Trap for Todd Fincher in a Maiden Special Weight race at Sunland Park. He made his first ride back a winning one. While the chart states “drew off, easy winner”, nothing has come easy for Felipe throughout these trials. However, through his determination and perseverance, he has been able to overcome major obstacles to return to racing. Valdez humbly granted credit for his return to his family, especially his daughters, for supporting his return. He also expressed immense gratitude to Todd Fincher for giving him opportunities throughout his career. “I’m always going to be thankful for the rest of my life to this guy [Fincher]…My whole career nobody else has given me an opportunity like the one he’s given to me.”

Since his return to race riding, Valdez has won 49 races from 289 starts. He Plans to continue riding in the New Mexico circuit.

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