Who is Preakness-winning jockey Jaime Torres?

May 19th, 2024

When jockey Jaime Torres was asked what it felt like to win the Preakness (G1) aboard Seize the Grey, the 25-year-old described it as the magic of cinema come to life:

“Can you guys imagine when you are watching a movie and you have this horse, like it's the main character in the movie and you see the last race and he wins and you feel that emotion, but just think like it's real. I cannot explain it.”

Indeed, Torres’s life story reads like a movie script. Although from Puerto Rico, whose racing-rich culture has produced such Hall of Fame riders as Angel Cordero Jr. and John Velazquez, reigning five-time Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr. and brother Jose Ortiz, Torres did not come from a racing family. He didn’t even have an equestrian background of any sort.

But his innate love for horses led to a visit to Camarero Racetrack in 2019.

“Horses are my favorite animal,” Torres told NYRA publicity, “and when I was a kid in the car with my parents, they would point out horses as we drove by and I would say, ‘Where, where?’ They have always been in my heart.

“I was watching racing one day and said, ‘I want to do that.’ I went to the track the next day, looked up all kinds of information, and that was it.”

Torres enrolled in Puerto Rico’s famous jockeys’ school. That was the first time that he had climbed into a saddle.

After learning the craft as an exercise rider, Torres ventured to Florida in 2022 and started out in that role for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. He progressed to become an apprentice jockey at Gulfstream Park, made his racing debut on Aug. 12, 2022, and notched his first win Sept. 17, 2022.

Who could have imagined that Torres would be winning the Preakness, with his first mount in a Triple Crown race, in a little over a year and a half?

Torres boosted his nascent career by moving to New York in early 2023. With Cordero taking him under his wing, Torres rapidly began to gain traction. He would go on to become the top apprentice jockey on the NYRA circuit – comprising Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga – by winning 37 races, and placing  in another 100, from a total of 411 mounts.

“In New York, I learned everything. New York is where I’ve spent the most time in my career,” Torres told NYRA. “I had so many people helping me there. I went to Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga because there are so many great jockeys.

“I learned so much from them – they’re all such humble, great people, and they want to help you to be better and better every day. I give them all the credit for helping me.”

It was at Saratoga last summer that Torres linked up with Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and guided a promising colt named Seize the Grey to a maiden win on July 29, 2023. The win, for a legendary horseman at a track steeped in racing history, meant so much to Torres that he has a big photo of it enshrined at his home.

Torres won seven races at the super-competitive Spa meeting, ranking 15th in the jockeys’ standings, one spot behind Velazquez. The time had come for him to shift tack again, to take advantage of fresh opportunities, now that he’d shown his raw ability on a high-profile stage.

Next setting up shop on the Kentucky circuit, with the support of retired Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, Torres plied his trade at Churchill Downs and Keeneland last fall. In October, he officially graduated from the apprentice ranks to become a journeyman rider.

Torres wintered at Fair Grounds, where he continued to build his resume with agent Liz Morris. He registered his first stakes victory aboard Leslie’s Loot in the Dec. 23 Letellier Memorial and made it a quick double on Just Might in the Richard Scherer Memorial.

All told in 2023, Torres won 100 races, and his mounts amassed just over $5 million in purses. His breakout season was recognized by the Eclipse Awards voters, who made him a finalist in the champion apprentice jockey category. Torres ultimately finished third in the balloting to Axel Concepcion.

Back to Kentucky in the spring, Torres reunited with Seize the Grey to capture the Pat Day Mile (G2) on Derby Day. Lukas was besieged by other jockeys’ agents seeking the mount in the Preakness, but the 88-year-old was determined to remain loyal to the young rider.

“I thought he had a lot of talent, and I loved working with him, but I really feel good about taking him to this level,” Lukas said in the post-Preakness press conference.

“A couple of weeks ago he rode one not so pretty, and I followed him all the way through the tunnel, all the way up the steps to the jocks' room, and I chewed him out.

“I said, you'll be back in Puerto Rico picking oranges if you're going to ride like that.”

Torres and Lukas hoist the trophy after the Preakness

Young jockey Jaime Torres and 88-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas teamed up to win the Preakness (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

That’s why Lukas will always be respected as “The Coach.” A legacy from his early days as a basketball coach, Lukas has brought that philosophy into his barn, nurturing both equine and human talent alike. His former assistants have gone on to build outstanding careers as trainers in their own right, including fellow Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Dallas Stewart, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mike Maker, and Mark Hennig.

“I want him to be better than he thinks he can be,” Lukas said of his “coaching” of Torres. “I always push that to him. I'm going to push you. I want you to do more than you actually think you can do and I want you to be better than you think you can be. I want you to really, really dedicate yourself.”

Torres has responded to the Coach’s motivation. Delivering a perfectly-judged, front-running ride on Seize the Grey, he scored a new career high for himself in the Preakness, and put Lukas in the record book as the oldest trainer to win a Triple Crown race. Torres was emulating Cordero and Stevens, who both contributed to Lukas’s overall tally of 15 classic wins. 

In the excitement of the moment, Torres didn’t overlook his agent, Liz Morris, wishing her happy birthday in the press conference. 

“For us it means a lot,” Torres said on behalf of his family as well. “We have no words to describe it. 

“We are just blessed by God. Blessed by God, and we are helped – like we are helped for a lot of people. And thank you, Wayne.”