Kyle Frey took a big risk to launch his career as a jockey when he moved from Tracy to Philadelphia to ride thoroughbreds.
At the end of his year as an apprentice jockey at Parx Racing that move has paid off. Frey, who just turned 20, is one of two riders up for the Eclipse 2011 Apprentice Jockey of the Year. It’s one of 11 honors that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters award to thoroughbred horses and the people who train and ride them.
“It was a little bit of a gamble to find out if I’d do well,” Frey said during a phone conversation from Philadelphia. “Coming here I’m leaving all of my bonds in California.”
He made a good impression on the East Coast with a win on a 25-1 longshot in his first race. Since then he’s immersed himself in life at the track where 14-hour days for two weeks on end are common, including his regular role at Parx and night races at another nearby track.
Frey was the top apprentice at Parx in 2011 and was the number-six jockey overall at the track, with 123 wins and 327 top-three finishes in 661 starts in 2011. He and the horses he rode brought in earnings of $3,559,021 .
“Definitely it’s a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s something that you have to love to do.”
Frey is one of three riders nominated for the Eclipse award, though awards officials called for a re-vote after they discovered that the 2011 statistics they had compiled for one of the nominees included wins and earnings that he gained after his apprenticeship was over. The final selection will be between Frey and Ryan Curatolo, a rider at Aqueduct race track in New York, and will be announced on Monday, Jan. 16.
Regardless of the selection, to be nominated is a big boost for Frey, whose grandfather, Paul Frey, was one of the top jockeys in Northern California from the 1950s to 1970s. Frey’s father, Jay, is a horse trainer and valet.
Frey grew up in Tracy and learned his way around race tracks with his family’s guidance and with the help of mentor jockeys like Russell Baze, Kevin Krigger and Leslie Mawing.
“A lot of the riders helped me out when I started riding,” Frey said. “There are always a lot of people willing to help. You just have to be willing to listen.”
Frey spent time in Washington working on a ranch before he came back to California to get more involved in racing. He got his first win at Golden Gate Fields in December, 2010, and moved to Philadelphia the urging of his agent, who saw it as an opportunity to make more money than he could earn as an apprentice rider in California.
He added that with so many horses and horse professionals around him there are countless opportunities to learn more.
“There’s no such thing as bad information. At least you can learn what you can do and can’t do.”