Horse Racing

Jockey Julian Pimentel Taking A Break To Contemplate What’s Next

Jockey Julian Pimentel.

Journeyman Julian Pimentel, a Maryland mainstay since 2006 that will be forever linked as the regular rider of late Mid-Atlantic legend Ben’s Cat, is taking the winter off to contemplate his future.

Pimentel, 40, finished sixth aboard Norman Lewis’ 4-year-old filly Castilleja for Hall of Fame trainer King Leatherbury in Saturday’s opener at Laurel Park in Laurel, Md., a six-furlong starter-optional claimer for fillies and mares 3 years old and up.

According to Equibase statistics, it was the 101st mount of the fall meet for Pimentel, 302nd of the year, and 11,299th in a career that began in his native Colombia before coming to the United States in 2000 and working as an exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. He first rode in New Jersey before making the move to Maryland.

“I’ve been fighting with my weight a little bit lately, so I’m going to go home to relax, spend time with family and not think about it and when I come back, I’ll see what happens,” Pimentel said. “This is all I’ve been doing all my life.

“I’ve never done anything else. I have fun, but it’s hard to do. Everything has to come to an end,” he added. “I’m definitely coming back, I just don’t know if I’m going to ride again. I don’t know exactly what I’d do.”

Pimentel has 11 wins at the fall meet, 42 this year, and 1,806 in a career that included eight Grade 3 wins and mounts in the 2019 G1 Kentucky Derby and 2011, 2014, and 2019 G1 Preakness. His victory in the 2017 G3 General George at Laurel was the first graded-stakes victory for Imperial Hint, who would go on to win four Grade 1 stakes and more than $2.2 million in purses.

Ben’s Cat was, by far, Pimentel’s greatest horse. Pimentel was aboard for 41 of 63 starts including 30 in a row from June 2012 to November 2015. Together they won 22 races, 17 of them in stakes, topped by the 2013 and 2014 G3 Parx Dash, 2012 G3 Turf Monster, 2012 Maryland Million Turf Sprint, 2013-15 Mister Diz and Jim McKay Turf Sprint, and 2012-14 Fabulous Strike Handicap. Ben’s Cat was euthanized at age 11 in June 2017 due to complications from colic surgery.

“Ben’s Cat was very important to me, a very good horse,” Pimentel said. “When we went to the Derby, that was great. There were a lot of good times.”

Ronnie Garcia, Pimentel’s agent since February 2009, said the jockey is leaving Tuesday for Colombia and expected to return following Laurel’s 2022 winter meet, which runs through March 27.

“This may be his last mount. He’s going home to give his body a break and around April, he’ll see how he is and if he feels like he can go back down to 118 [pounds] again,” Garcia said. “He’s competitive. It’s a little harder these days. The older you get, your metabolism slows down. He’s done a good job taking care of his body. He’s had a good career.”

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Garcia said Pimentel first began thinking about taking a sabbatical when Maryland racing was paused from mid-March to late May 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Pimentel had single-season highs of 1,039 mounts and $4,387,978 million in purse earnings in 2001 and 146 wins in 2011, when he also won his 1,000th race aboard Pet Me Pet Me at Delaware Park.

“He’s leaning toward retirement. It all depends on his weight,” Garcia said. “I’m praying that he’ll be back, because I’m going to miss him. We’ve been together for almost 13 years. It’s a long time, especially in this game.”

Other graded-stakes winners for Pimentel are Divisidero, Control System, Evil Minister, and Runspastum. He ranks fifth with 13 career wins in the Maryland Million, five behind Hall of Fame leader Edgar Prado.


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