The Man Behind the Man

by Ed Meyer

posted on June 6, 2022 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby, | Comments Off on The Man Behind the Man

Every team has a behind the scenes person who tends to the details and getting everything ready to roll. They do the jobs that few will see, but when they do right it becomes bright and clear. Rich Strike is tended to by many for Eric Reed. The hands who ready the horse to train, feed, bathe, and provide that loving touch to make them feel good. – But in the morning, there’s a person who gets aboard and works out the horse. They return with complete details of how they trained and what they feel underneath them. For Rich Strike, that man is Gabriel Lagunes.

Lagunes is a veteran rider who still looks like the 18-year-old jocks giving their all.  Gabriel and Sonny Leon compete together on the Belterra Park oval and walk back to jocks room as friends.

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His effervescent smile that lights up a room; and when he greets you it’s with a hug that comes from the heart. Gabe is one of the good guys. Fearless as all riders and smart with his abilities. That funny feeling you get standing next to him are the positive vibes emanating to your soul. He has an endless supply of energy, and only positive thinking in his heart. – That’s how you help prepare an 80-1 to be his best to win the Kentucky Derby. – Gabe would give all credit to trainer Eric Reed and rider Sonny Leon as he wore the roses a few weeks back. Truth be told, he’s just as important to Team Reed as he was grabbing a selfie of both flying to the Belmont early to prepare. May be an image of 2 people

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He’s settling down Rich Strike and communicating as one with his equine athlete. – He returns with a detailed report of how he travelled, responded, and felt throughout the work. This is a huge part of getting ready for the race, and Eric Reed has great respect for the work that Gabriel completes.

He started riding Quarter Horse in Mexico at the age of 12 progressing through the ranks to become a journeyman rider. What grabbed my heart is when he used to tell me stories of his homeland, and a piece in Paulick Report paints a true story of the man.

As much joy as that Kentucky Derby-winning moment must have held, however, it pales in comparison to the emotion that washes across Lagunes’ face when he talks about the annual children’s celebration he sponsors in his hometown of Veracruz, Mexico.

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz is a hotbed for cartel violence and also has a significant portion of its population living in poverty. In 2020, according to, 35.7 percent of the population was in a situation of moderate poverty and 5.25 percent was in extreme poverty.

Lagunes’ family was among the poorest. He had to step away from our interview to collect himself when he recalled that he and his brothers never received any toys on the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year, the Jan. 6 Día de Los Reyes celebration.

“Here, in the United States, it’s Santa Claus,” Lagunes explained. “In Mexico, it’s Santo Reyes. I would go to school, and everybody would have new toys, but my brothers and I had nothing.”

Lagunes goes above and beyond every year to ensure that no other children in Veracruz ever have to feel that way again. Every year, he sends toys for over 200 children and hosts a Three Kings Day celebration including piñatas, bags of sweets, inflatables, a bounce house, and ice cream, according to the Paulick Report.

Early mornings listening to the rhythm of the horse on a barely lit foggy morning. Perfect time to communicate between horse and rider. – Most have been jockeys or still ride today. Wise trainers choose selectively for the talents of these riders as they want to hear from a professional who is close to the same weight as the Derby or Belmont rider.

This week is the “Test of Champions”, and three friends will summon their talents to etch another page in history. – Preparing a colt takes a team, and if you love a good story with heart, grit, and hope. Look no further than Rich Strike this weekend. – I love stories where the underdog wins and does it with a humble manner and gives out more credit than accepting accolades. – Best of luck, my friends!

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