By David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club
USA: As out-of-state horsemen are welcomed back to Laurel Park this weekend for the first time since live racing returned to Maryland late last month, no one is happier than trainer Jorge Duarte, who is back in business after being hospitalised with coronavirus.
The trainer for Richard Santulli’s Colts Neck Stables operation in northeastern New Jersey is eager to get things started for four-year-old filly Introduced, a Laurel stakes winner last summer who makes her seasonal debut in Saturday’s feature race.
Even more important, the race is yet another step toward a return to normalcy for Duarte following his recent illness. There are still reminders of his ordeal, but being back with the horses has been the biggest healer of all.
“I was a jockey and I had spills – you’re in the hospital for things, but this was unique,” says Duarte, 35. “You get the flu and things like that but this was very different, and very severe. It was tough. I’m happy I fought it off and we’re still here.
“I’m still recovering,” he adds. “I can’t say that I’m 100 percent, but I’m starting to do my workouts again and I’m coming to the barn on a daily basis. It was not easy, that’s for sure.”
Duarte first noticed being a little more tired than normal in the middle of March, ultimately developing a fever that he couldn’t get down below 101 degrees. Recognising the symptoms he went to be tested for COVID-19, the results of which came up positive.
Duarte checked into the hospital March 24 and spent a week at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey. Although he developed pneumonia and was put on oxygen, he did not require a ventilator.
Once discharged from the hospital Duarte quarantined himself at home, and a subsequent test for the virus in April came back negative. “My age [helped], and my fitness level, too,” he explains.
“I still keep pretty active, even though I’m not riding races or horses in the morning. It hits everybody different. I’m still getting better. I still have a little shortness of breath and stuff like that, but I think my body should fight this off completely.”
Duarte is in his second full year as a trainer, taking over the Colts Neck horses following Alan Goldberg’s transition to the post of racing manager after working as his assistant for four years. A winner of 424 races as a jockey between 2000 and 2010, Duarte won 35 of 195 starts in 2019 with more than $1.7 million in purse earnings.
His former boss stepped in while Duarte recovered from coronavirus; since his return, he has won two races, both on the June 3 opening card at Belmont Park – one of them with a horse called Strongerthanuknow.
“I was two months away from the barn and a week in the hospital,” says Duarte. “Alan filled in for me, so that worked out pretty good. I was fortunate to have a lot of support. Now everything’s back to normal and we’re starting to crank it up a little bit and see what this year offers. It’s been unique, that’s for sure.”
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