Each racing night, aboard cheap claimers and stakes horses, Ralph Seville is living a lifelong dream.
The 26-year-old Buena Park native is the fifth-leading rider at Los Alamitos, the first time he has enjoyed a prominent position among one of quarter horse racing's toughest jockey colonies. Through Sunday, Seville has won 59 races at the current meeting, and he is 14th nationally in races won this year.
Last year, he was 34th in races won nationally and failed to crack the local top 10.
"This is my best year in California," said Seville, who lives in Long Beach with his wife and 20-month-old daughter. "I've always known I could ride with anyone. Everywhere I've been--Utah, Idaho and Wyoming--I was leading rider."
Seville was born in Buena Park and grew up in Cypress. By the time he was 4, he was attending the races with his grandfather, and he used to sneak in and fish the infield ponds. Later, he worked at Caesar Dominguez's barn on weekends and after school, learning about horses. "I wanted to be a rider at 4," he said. "My grandfather (who died in 1979) took me then, and I've wanted to do it ever since. I wish he could have stayed alive long enough to watch me ride, but I'm sure he's watching."
Seville won his first race in Missoula, Mont., at 16. He spent his summers riding at small tracks in the Pacific Northwest and his winters galloping horses at Los Alamitos, where he watched and learned from John Creager.
Creager, who rides at Los Alamitos today, was the leading jockey in 1984, the year he helped the teen-aged Seville. "John Creager probably taught me more than anyone," Seville said. "He was my idol when I was growing up and I admire him more than anyone."
Seville was the leading rider at Wyoming Downs in 1987, the year he won the Silver Dollar Derby aboard Rumbo Runner. It was about the same time, however, that the 5-foot-8 Seville began fighting his weight. "I was pulling (losing) five or six pounds a night just to ride," he said. "Most of it was bad eating habits."
Seville joined the California circuit full time in 1988 and rode for many of the smaller stables. He wasn't among the leaders, but was always present. This year has been different. A new diet has enabled him to return to a normal eating schedule and helped to strengthen his attitude. His stables are also enjoying strong years.
He has ridden stakes winners Macs Royal Diamond and Queen Auntie for James Maple, Macs Leinster Band for Brian Koriner and Desert Connection for James Glenn. "I think my success is knowing the horses I ride," Seville said. "I study the horses (on videotape). I've been pretty lucky. My wife takes care of everything. I've quit fighting my weight and have felt twice as good as I've ever had.
"My goal for the meet was to be leading rider," said Seville, who is too far behind co-leaders Eddie Garcia and Kip Didericksen to catch them in the last six weeks. "Then, when I won three in one night, I wanted to win four. I've done that twice. I won seven in a week and then eight. Now, I want to win five in a night and then 10 in a week."
Returning from a three-month layoff Saturday night, Refrigerator won a trial for the Champion of Champions in devastating fashion.
The 3-year-old gelding from the Blane Schvaneveldt barn ran 440 yards in 21.50 seconds for the fastest time of six qualifiers. Four horses--Apprehend, Jazzing Hi, See Me Gone and Takin On The Cash--have already qualified for the Champion of Champions on Dec. 21 as the result of major victories. The six qualifiers from the trials were either winners of races that did not carry automatic berths or had finished second or third in major stakes. Six is a large number of berths to be available from the trials, a situation that occurred because Apprehend and Takin On The Cash won four of the races that carried automatic berths, and Dash For Speed and Wicked Willa were retired.
Refrigerator, owned by Jim Helzer of Arlington, Tex., beat Special Leader by three-quarters of a length for his 11th victory in 16 starts. It was his first start since a second-place finish in the All American Derby behind See Me Gone on Sept. 1. Never worse than second in his career, Refrigerator has earned $1,300,212, including an easy victory in the 1990 All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, N.M.
"He stood perfectly (in the gates)," said Didericksen, his rider. "When I left, I never saw anyone. I'm excited about Dec. 21."
Special Leader, Frisco Flare and Tee Roy Reb, the second-through-fourth finishers behind Refrigerator, will join Isaws Sugar Bear and Reckless Dash from the other trial in the $250,000 final.
Two Arabian stakes highlight this weekend's racing. Friday's feature is the $10,000 California Girls Handicap for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs. Saturday's program includes the $10,000 California Heritage Handicap at seven furlongs.
There are no stakes races for quarter horses this weekend at Los Alamitos, but Agua Caliente will hold the first quarter horse race in that track's 75-year history. The $10,000 Pan American challenge at 350 yards for 3-year-olds and older will be Saturday's feature at the Tijuana track, and the field will be made up of mostly Los Alamitos-based runners.
Winning Guarantee, a 5-year-old mare from Caesar Dominguez's barn, is expected to race in the Pan American for owner Alfonso Gonzalez. She won the Gold Coast Express Handicap at the Orange County Fair and was second to Isaws Sugar Bear in the Miss Princess Handicap.
Dealin Easys Moon, who qualified for a major stake at Ruidoso Downs last summer, is also expected to compete. The field for the Pan American, which will be the richest race of Caliente's season, will be announced today.