By JIM WELLS
Baseball scouts do it, so do the analysts of NFL talent and potential NBA players. There is much to be learned from watching an athlete perform, especially on film where every move can be replayed to break down the subtleties and nuances of athletic skill and potential.
Eager to get a look at a young rider he had been touted on in Florida last winter, Richard Grunder did what other professional scouts do. The veteran jockey agent headed over to Tampa Bay Downs and began watching films of Hugo Sanchez, a 23-year-old rider promoted to him by racing acquaintances.
After scrutinizing four to five hours of Sanchez on film, Grunder continued his homework, calling acquaintances throughout the game to get the lowdown on the young rider, his habits, discipline and anything else that might provide clues to his potential. He liked the way Sanchez sat a horse without wasted motion, moving easily with the horse’s stride, switching sticks effortlessly. “He could move a horse on a path through big fields, maneuvering his way through traffic,’’ Grunder added.
Grunder had a strong feeling he had found a “diamond in the rough,’’ a rider who with proper polishing and patience might become another young Derek Bell, Ry Eikleberry or Tanner Riggs. He continued to research that hunch.
“I heard nothing but good things about him so I thought there had to be some baggage somewhere,’’ Grunder recalled. He didn’t find any.
Sanchez’s riding career has been confined to Calder Race Course, Gulfstream Park and a brief experience at Delaware Park. He rode his first winner at Calder in 2012.
Jockey and agent began talking by phone sometime in February as Sanchez now recalls and came to an agreement in March, all without having met face to face. That would have to wait until Sanchez drove through the stable gate at Canterbury Park on May 3.
He had never been to Minnesota before, relying entirely on his GPS and the companionship of a friend to make the 35-hour drive from Florida to Shakopee.
Nothing he has experienced since has altered those favorable first impressions of Canterbury, the backside, the racetrack, the fans, Minnesotans in general. Particularly the crowds.
“It’s so exciting,’’ he said, “when you reach the quarter pole and can hear the crowd roaring, all those people. It really gets you going.’’
Sanchez was born in Lima, Peru. He was 10 years old when his father took a job as an exercise rider in Florida and the family relocated. He has been a Floridian since.
His attachment to the racetrack, naturally, was a consequence of his father’s occupation. In his late teens, Hugo began riding a horse purchased by his brother Oscar around a farm near Calder and a career was born.
Now, Sanchez has moved his tack to Shakopee and hopes to attract the attention of as many barns as possible with the most effective advertising tool at the racetrack _ winning races.
Grunder had waiting horses for Sanchez to work immediately upon his arrival at Canterbury. “Right away, that first day, he started introducing me to everybody,’’ Sanchez added. “He knows just about everybody. Now I want to impress more trainers and owners.’’
He is doing just that, little by little. Friday night he rode his 14th winner of the meet, moving into third place in the rider standings at that juncture.
“A lot of people don’t know me yet,’’ Sanchez said.
That changes little by little, with each winner he rides.