From Derby Triumph to Gulfstream Glory: Sonny Leon’s Ascension in the Racing World

Sonny Leon: From Venezuela to Gulfstream Park

When Sonny Leon made his way to the United States from his native Venezuela in 2015, it was Gulfstream Park that became his first destination. This track holds a special place in his heart as it was where he started his career. However, after a promising start with a win in his fourth race, Leon struggled to find success. He became a forgotten figure in the highly competitive South Florida circuit and eventually decided to explore better opportunities in Ohio and Northern Kentucky.

Finding His Level to Rise Above

It is often said that one must find their level to rise above it, and this is exactly what Leon did. After spending seven years mostly riding in horse racing’s minor leagues, he discovered a path that now brings him back to Gulfstream Park as a full-time rider. Starting with six mounts on Saturday, Leon will embark on his new journey in South Florida.

Leon’s journey back to Gulfstream Park became significantly easier after a fateful day in May. It was on May 7 that Leon’s career took a transformative turn. He piloted Rich Strike, a $30,000 claimer with a modest record of 1 win in 7 starts, to an astonishing victory in the prestigious Kentucky Derby.

An Unforgettable Ride to Victory

The ride Leon delivered aboard Rich Strike was nothing short of spectacular. NBC’s overhead camera captured the scintillating moments as Leon boldly maneuvered through the field, using the rail as his guiding beacon. From 17th place at the mile mark, he defied the odds and propelled Rich Strike to the front, triumphantly claiming victory with just 50 yards to go.

Instantly, Leon’s name went from obscurity to notoriety. Prior to May 7, unless you were familiar with the jockey colonies of Belterra Park or Mahoning Valley, Leon would have likely gone unnoticed by racing enthusiasts. Despite his accomplishments, which include multiple riding titles at Belterra and Mahoning Valley, the 32-year-old jockey remained a relative unknown in the higher-profile races.

A Bright Future at Gulfstream Park

However, that is bound to change during this new chapter at Gulfstream Park. Leon has garnered the attention of esteemed trainers like Hall of Famer Mark Casse and respected figure Mike Maker. He is set to ride horses for both trainers on Saturday, starting with Carlin Clan in a $35,000 maiden claimer, a mount provided by Casse. Later, he will partner with Maker’s Over Calendared in a $12,500 maiden claimer.

Leon’s promising mounts continue with a first-time starter named Luka Grazis in the seventh race, another Casse trainee. He will then team up with Nepoti, trained by Maker, in the eighth race. Notably, Leon’s only stakes mount comes from trainer David Braddy, as he rides Easy Come Easy Go in the $75,000 Azalea stakes.

A Promising Future for Sonny Leon

It is evident that Leon’s return to Gulfstream Park holds immense potential for his career. With strong support from trainers like Casse and Maker, he is poised to make his mark in the Florida racing scene. By seizing the opportunities before him, Leon has the chance to join the ranks of esteemed Venezuelan jockeys like Javier Castellano, Junior Alvarado, Leonel Reyes, and Emisael Jaramillo.

While his journey is just beginning, Sonny Leon already has a remarkable achievement that sets him apart from his fellow countrymen. Among the talented Venezuelan jockeys who have achieved great success, including the four-time Eclipse Award-winner and Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, Leon holds the distinction of being a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey.


Sonny Leon’s story is one of perseverance and determination. Starting from humble beginnings in Venezuela, he faced numerous challenges before finding his footing in the competitive world of horse racing. After a period of honing his skills in the minor leagues, Leon’s career took a momentous turn with his victory in the Kentucky Derby. Now, as he returns to Gulfstream Park as a full-time rider, the future looks bright for this talented jockey.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How did Sonny Leon achieve success in the Kentucky Derby?

Sonny Leon achieved success in the Kentucky Derby by delivering a remarkable ride aboard Rich Strike, a $30,000 claimer. With audacity and skill, Leon guided the horse from 17th place to the front of the pack, using the rail as his navigational aid. His stellar performance earned him the title of a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey.

2. What led to Sonny Leon’s decision to return to Gulfstream Park?

Sonny Leon’s decision to return to Gulfstream Park was motivated by the opportunities that awaited him there. Despite facing challenges and a lack of recognition in higher-profile races, Leon persevered and found support from esteemed trainers like Mark Casse and Mike Maker. With their backing, he believes Gulfstream Park is the ideal place for him to make his mark.

3. How does Sonny Leon’s Kentucky Derby win impact his career?

Sonny Leon’s Kentucky Derby win has catapulted his career to new heights. Prior to this remarkable victory, he was relatively unknown outside of the minor leagues. However, his triumph in America’s most prestigious race brought him into the spotlight and earned him recognition as a talented jockey to watch. This achievement opens doors to better mounts and opportunities for Leon.

4. What can we expect from Sonny Leon’s future at Gulfstream Park?

Sonny Leon’s future at Gulfstream Park looks promising. With the support of renowned trainers like Mark Casse and Mike Maker, he has the opportunity to compete among higher-caliber horses and in more prestigious races. By capitalizing on these opportunities and showcasing his skills, we can anticipate continued growth and success for Leon at Gulfstream Park.

5. How does Sonny Leon’s Kentucky Derby win compare to other accomplished Venezuelan jockeys?

Sonny Leon’s Kentucky Derby win sets him apart from other accomplished Venezuelan jockeys. While revered jockeys like Javier Castellano have achieved remarkable success and earned prestigious accolades, Leon holds the distinction of being a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey. This accomplishment further solidifies his place among the Venezuelan greats and highlights his potential for an exceptional career.

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