- Published: Wednesday, 11 September 2019 15:17
After years of helping with the family’s horses, exercise riding for other trainers and serving as an assistant trainer in Maryland, 24-year-old Anthony “T.J” Aguirre Jr. got his trainer’s license July 7 and had his first starter less than two weeks later.
On Aug. 15 he quickly achieved a milestone—a 2-year-old he acquired as a yearling after the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic September sale made his first start, and Aguirre was particularly proud because the colt, a Maryland-bred named Benny Havens, is also the first horse he purchased at auction and the first he broke on his own.
“I bought him privately for $1,500,” Aguirre said. “He was went through the ring and wasn’t sold. I don’t what happened. The mare is nine-for-nine with her racing foals and he’s a beautiful horse. The whole purpose was to get a Maryland-bred. I train in Maryland and I want to stay in Maryland. That was the goal.
“I’ve been with him every day. I haven’t spent a day away from him because he was at my mom’s farm.”
In his first start, Benny Havens broke slowly and didn’t enter contention in the 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight event on the turf. He returned at the Maryland State Fair at Timonium and checked in a good third in four-furlong maiden special weight event on Aug. 25.
Aguirre then stretched out Benny Havens to one mile on the turf in a maiden waiver-claiming race at Laurel Sept. 15. The Outflanker colt stalked the leader from second, took over the far turn and tenaciously held off Mister Frank’s Way to win by a half-length under Weston Hamilton at 9-1.
“It’s a dream come true,” Aguirre said. “I’m just happy to get the monkey off my back and get my first win.I couldn’t have done it without my parents. I broke my arm in April, right when he (Benny Havens) came into the track, and they got on him and they helped me get him to this point.”
Aguirre, son of trainer Anthony Aguirre and Kaymarie Kreidel, a Maryland Jockey Club outrider and former full-time jockey who still rides on occasion, got his start with horses at age 5 when his parents gave him a pony rescued from a kill pen. When the pony died six years later, Aguirre said he avoided horses and racing to concentrate on football in high school.
At 18 he entered college and needed a part-time job, so he began walking hots at the track for various trainers, including Robin Graham, Bev Heckrotte and Jose Corrales. He was a groom for Hugh McMahon and Mike Trombetta and, with the goal of becoming a trainer, began exercising riding on regular basis to get a better feel for horses.
“I was an assistant for Jeremiah Engelhart (when he had more horses at Laurel in the winter), and after that decided it was time to try to get my trainer’s license. That was always the goal, as was to be able to gallop the horses I was going to train. You learn so much about them from doing that.”
Aguirre, who also travels to Pimlico Race Course to exercise ride in the morning, is a big football fan and he frequently references the sport when he talks about racing with friends and owners.
“Just seeing the success other people have can give you a goal,” he said. “My dream is to be able to pick horse and say, ‘This is your future.’ I relate it to football, and when I talk to owners I use that to help them understand. It’s about looking for a diamond in the rough. And you build your barn like would build a team. People know football terminology more than racing terminology.”
Aguirre acknowledges the challenges of making a living in the racing and breeding business, as well as issues that have come under a microscope particularly this year.
“We’re in it because we love it, and because of that there is passion, love and care for these animals,” he said. “I’ve had friends come in at times to help walk horses, and I’m always trying to get my friends to come to the races. (If you look at the economic and jobs impact), these horses do so much for so many people.”
Aguirre saddled his first horse as a trainer July 18 when Red Clay Road, owned by Aguirre and Under The Sun Stable, made his second start of the year after having been trained by his father. The 5-year-old Warrior’s Reward gelding has been in the family for a while—Aguirre recalls taking care of one of his feet when he was injured and at the farm as a 2-year-old.
Red Clay Road, a two-time winner on the turf, raced one mile on the grass at Laurel Aug. 16—he dueled for the lead through fast fractions after a poor start but dropped back on the far turn. The race, however, was special because the jockey was his mother, who rode one race in 2017, one in 2016 and one in 2014.
“Mom was excited,” Aguirre said, “I would have scratched if it switched to the dirt because the horse loves the turf. If she was going to come out of ‘retirement,’ I wanted her to have a legit shot to win a race.”
As part of the Aug. 8 Maryland Horse Forum at Goucher College, the Maryland Horse Industry Board presented its “Touch of Class Award” to Kreidel. Kreidel and her horse, Witch Hunter, corralled a loose Bodexpress after he unseated John Velazquez at the start of the Preakness Stakes, ran around the track with the field, and then turned and was headed toward a crowd heading to the infield for winner’s circle festivities.
Kreidel received the award for showcasing great horsemanship. She credited the horses.
“I would not be the outrider I am without the wonderful horses I sit on,” she said. “I do everything I can to promote horse racing. It is my love, my passion and my desire.”