Nicholas Godfrey: Life of Pablo is one worth celebrating

Horse Racing Pablo Falero
Pablo Falero receives a guard of honour on his retirement at Maronas
Horse Racing Planet Nicholas Godfrey

Uruguayan rider Pablo Falero – ‘racing’s Maradona’ – has retired after more than 9,500 winners and 38 years in the saddle. Nicholas Godfrey recounts the stellar career of a South American hero

Although the racing world is a much smaller place than it used to be, at least one continent remains very much the road less travelled.

Despite a multitude of high-profile exports – think the likes of Invasor, Gloria De Campeao and Asiatic Boy – the sport within South America itself still stands at a degree of separation.

Which is probably why the retirement of one of the most legendary figures in South American racing earlier this month caused barely a ripple of interest beyond the borders of the continent. I am talking about Pablo Falero, the jockey dubbed ‘racing’s Maradona’ in Argentina, mentioned in this space a few weeks ago, who returned to his native Uruguay for his final ride after more than 9,500 winners and 38 years in the saddle.

Horse Racing Pablo Falero
An emotional Pablo Falero on his last day in the saddle. Photo: Luis Costa Baleta

In fact, to say ‘retirement’ is slightly misleading, as the 53-year-old won’t be sitting in front of the fire with his pipe and slippers. Rather, he has already started training at San Isidro just outside Buenos Aires, where he has ridden the bulk of his 9,580 winners, enough to sit third on the all-time list for career victories.

The numbers are amazing – winning 9,500 races is a huge amount and I didn’t keep count!

Sadly, though, there was to be no fairytale ending for the hugely popular Falero when his mount Olympic Harvard could finish only fourth in the Gran Premio Jose Pedro Ramirez at Maronas racecourse in Montevideo on 6 January. 

The G1 event over 1m4f on dirt was won in brilliant fashion by the favourite Ajuste Fiscal, who scored by seven lengths. But the main focus of attention on Uruguay’s most prestigious raceday was the homecoming of Falero, who has been based across the River Plate in the more exalted racing arena of Buenos Aires for the last 28 years.

Falero’s colleagues welcomed him with a guard of honour at the entrance to the ornate Maronas grandstand, ahead of the final ride of a career featuring nearly 50,000 rides and about 170 Grade 1 winners, among them four victories in the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini, the ‘South American Arc’. Falero’s last ride in Argentina had come last month in the most recent edition of the race when he was unplaced on Fromm behind Brazilian winner Nao Da Mais.

He retired with no fewer than 21 jockeys’ titles to his name, five in Uruguay (1987-1991) and 16 more in Argentina, where he formed a formidable long-running partnership with trainer Juan Carlos Maldotti and the Lottero family’s Haras Vacacion stable, for whom he is now set to take up training duties.

“The numbers are amazing – winning 9,500 races is a huge amount and I didn’t keep count!” he said. “The time has passed very quickly and I must thank my family for all their support throughout my career. 

“I do not regret the decision to stop riding,” he went on. “It’s true to say that I still feel great and I think I’m still riding well and my reflexes are as good as ever. But I said I would finish at the end of 2019 and here I am, keeping my word.”

Horse Racing Pablo Falero
Pablo Falero: hugely popular figure in South American racing. Photo: Julio Guimaraes

On the verge of tears as he addressed the crowd at Maronas, Falero expressed his gratitude for the warmth of the response he received. “I will never forget this tribute,” said the rider.  “I could not believe the ovation I received when I came on to the track with Olympic Harvard and I’m also astonished to find some many Argentinian horse racing people here for my farewell.”

Born in Conchillas, Uruguay, in December 1966, Falero had his first ride aged 14 at the Real San Carlos in Colonia de Sacramento on the Uruguayan coast; his first winner, Unica, came on his third mount at the same venue when he was 15 in 1982.

Owing to the possibly unreliable nature of records from that era, it is difficult to be entirely confident of his career figures, but sources in Uruguay put his overall tally at 9,580 – enough to place him third on the all-time list behind only Jorge Ricardo, Falero’s colleague in Buenos Aires for nearly two decades, and the now-retired North American Russell Baze.

Falero has won a multitude of G1 races in South America, including the continent’s biggest races, the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (four times – Potrillon 1991, Potri Pe 1992, Guarachero 2000 and Storm Mayor 2005) and the GP Latinoamericano, which he won on Potrillon in 1992.

Horse Racing Pablo Falero Jorge Ricardo
Pablo Falero (left) with longtime colleague Jorge Ricardo, the all-time record holder in career victories. Photo: Julio Guimaraes

However, Falero identifies the victory of Delivery in the G1 Gran Premio Enrique Acebal at San Isidro in 1998 as his most important triumph as it came after nine months on the sidelines following a horrific injury in morning trackwork in which he fractured three cervical vertebrae. Doctors had warned he might never ride again.

Jorge Ricardo, still riding in Buenos Aires after serious illness and injury in recent seasons, heads the all-time jockeys’ list with 12,975 winners. There is widespread rumour in Argentina that the Brazilian jockey known as ‘Ricardinho’ will retire when he reaches 13,000. That might not take too long: even though Ricardo’s win rate has drastically declined, they still have up to 30 races a day at major venues across South America.

That also helps explain why, according to the Pagina de Turf website, the world leader among trainers in career victories is Peruvian-based Juan Suarez Villaroel, who had registered 9,535 winners as at January 5.

• Thanks to Luis Costa Baleta for assistance with this article

All-time jockeys’ top ten
1 Jorge Ricardo 12,977
Russell Baze 12,844
Pablo Falero  9,580
Laffit Pincay 9,530
Bill Shoemaker 8,833
Pat Day 8,803
David Gall 7,396
8 Edgar Prado 7,343
9 Fumio Matoba 7,274
10 Takemi Sasaki 7,153
As at January 16, 2020