When Ernesto Valdez-Jiminez came from Mexico to the U.S., his riding potential surpassed his English skills
Article By: Hal Lundgren
His agent for nearly a decade, Travis Church, suggested how to communicate while his client gained a better grip on English.
Church said, "If a trainer asks a question you don't understand, just tell him 'Yes.'
"If a trainer wants to know if the horse should go for the lead, tell him 'Yes,' " Church said.
"If a trainer asks if the horse should come from behind, give him the same answer."
The plan hit a snag when a trainer asked, "What should we do in this race?" And Valdez-Jiminez replied, "Yes."
Today, both Valdez-Jiminez's language and riding skills have leaped forward. But finishing second to Stewart Elliott in this year's Sam Houston Race Park jockey standings was not the goal.
"I want to be first next year," he said.
That would be an improvement, a quality that stands out in his riding career. He won about 17 percent of his races during SHRP's Thoroughbred season. That's way up from his 11-percent career win rate.
Valdez-Jiminez, 31, is on track to surpass more than $2 million in race earnings for the second consecutive year. In seven lean years, he grossed less than $1 million.
"Ernesto has so much going for him," Church said. "It's hard to find someone who's more dedicated to working hard."
That work ethic stood out when he followed two older brothers from Mexico to Louisiana Downs, later the Fair Grounds. He cleaned stables, walked horses and jumped in when anyone needed help. No task was beneath him.
After six years of stable work, he advanced to galloping horses before getting his jockey license in 2011.
"Talk about being determined," Church said. "He broke his jaw (in a fall). He came out of the hospital with his jaw wired shut. He expected to ride the next day. He was disappointed when that didn't happen."
Valdez-Jiminez added, "My jaw was broken in two places. I was ready to ride right away. The doctors wouldn't let me.
"They made me wait a few weeks. That was a hard time. I couldn't even get on a horse. I couldn't eat because I couldn't chew anything. I got very tired of sipping soup through a straw."
Today, nothing is off the menu, even if it's expensive. His career shows an average earnings-per-start of about $1,900. For 2023, it's about $4,300.
Special thanks from SHRP to Hal Lundgren for this year’s series of “SHRP Up Close & Personal” articles. Hal Lundgren was a national columnist for The Sporting News, a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated, and winner of many sports and business writing awards from the Society for Technical Communication, the International Association of Business Communicators, United Press International, and an AP Managing Editors' award for Texas' Best Sports Story. He has covered 16 Super Bowls and NCAA championships in three sports.