2022 Kentucky Derby jockey profile: Rafael Bejarano

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 1st, 2022

Who is Rafael Bejarano?

The career of Rafael Bejarano can be roughly divided into three stages: his rise in Kentucky, his dominance in California, and his return to Kentucky.

The 39-year-old jockey got started in his native Peru and was a star apprentice before moving to the U.S. in 2002. Widespread success quickly followed. Riding primarily in Kentucky, Bejarano ranked as North America’s top jockey by wins in 2004, picking up 455 victories during an extraordinarily productive season.

In late 2007, Bejarano entered the second stage of his career, shifting to California and dominating the local jockey rankings for the better part of a decade. The California years contributed significantly to Bejarano’s tallies of 240 graded stakes wins and $216 million in career earnings.

Bejarano’s riding opportunities began to wane during the second half of the 2010s, prompting a return in 2020 to his Kentucky riding roots. The move is already reaping dividends: Bejarano won 107 races in 2021, his first year cracking the 100 barrier since 2017.

Bejarano has ridden in the Kentucky Derby (G1) 11 times, with his best finish being a fourth aboard Papa Clem in 2009. All told, Bejarano has compiled an 11-for-111 (10%) record riding 1 1/4 miles on dirt, highlighted by several Grade 1 wins. He’ll have an opportunity to add another major victory to his tally when guiding Santa Anita Derby (G1) third-place finisher Happy Jack in the 2022 Run for the Roses.

As Bejarano continues the second Kentucky phase of his career, let’s analyze his record riding on dirt at a few tracks where Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races are contested:

All stats from Jan. 1, 2017 through April 24, 2022. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:
Starts Wins Win % ROI %
111 11 10% -58%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Nazrana Dixon.

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:      
Starts Wins Places Shows Win % ITM % ROI %
11 0 0 0 0% 0% -100%

Bejarano at Aqueduct

Bejarano’s only ride at Aqueduct over the last five years came in the 2017 Cigar Mile H. (G1), where he finished fourth aboard the pace-tracking longshot Americanize.

Bejarano at Churchill Downs

After riding in California for many years, Bejarano shifted his tack to Kentucky for 2020 and has since enjoyed a productive run at Churchill Downs. Over the last two years, he’s gone 60-for-476 (13%) over Louisville’s legendary oval while picking up a top-level win aboard Bodexpress in the Clark S. (G1). His three rides over the Churchill dirt between 2017 and 2019 were also worthwhile, producing a victory aboard Phantom Boss in the 2019 Bashford Manor S. (G3).

Bejarano rode regularly at Churchill in the mid-2000s, winning three meet titles between 2003 and 2005. A bevy of graded stakes wins came his way during this timeframe, including the 2004 Stephen Foster H. (G1) and the 2007 Humana Distaff (G1). Later—riding California shippers—Bejarano won the 2010 Kentucky Oaks (G1) aboard Blind Luck and picked up the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint with Secret Circle.

Bejarano at Keeneland

Bejarano’s 16-for-180 (9%) record isn’t overly eye-catching at first glance, but all of those rides have come since 2020, after Bejarano shifted his tack back to Kentucky. His record isn’t bad for a rebuilding phase, considering how competitive the action is at Keeneland.

In the past, Bejarano has enjoyed noteworthy success in Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races at Keeneland. He won the Blue Grass S. (G1) aboard Dominican in 2007 and nabbed the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) in 2004 and 2008.

Bejarano also won four meet titles at Keeneland between 2004 and 2007.

Bejarano at Oaklawn Park

Although Bejarano hasn’t won a race at Oaklawn in the last five years, he’s only ridden twice, both times in stakes. In 2020, he guided Campaign to a runner-up finish in the Temperence Hill S.

Bejarano at Santa Anita

For a dozen years from 2008-2019, Bejarano called Southern California home and ranked among the leading riders on the circuit. Right off the bat, he topped the winter jockey rankings at Santa Anita, a feat he achieved six more times through 2016. The list of graded stakes Bejarano has won at Santa Anita goes on and on, highlighted by back-to-back triumphs aboard Goldencents in the 2013-14 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

Bejarano’s momentum at Santa Anita has slowed a bit since 2017, hence the move back to Kentucky, but his 20% win rate riding on dirt over the last five years remains solid. In 2017, Bejarano reiterated his skill at riding the Kentucky Derby distance when nabbing the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) aboard Cupid.

Bejarano at Tampa Bay Downs

Bejarano’s only trip to Tampa in the last five years came in 2021, on a day when he rode Hidden Stash to a runner-up effort in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Bejarano at Turfway Park

In recent years, riding at Turfway has been a lucrative exercise for Bejarano. In 2019, he enjoyed a 3-for-5 (60%) day at the Kentucky track, winning the Animal Kingdom S., Bourbonette Oaks, and Kentucky Cup Classic. He also won the 2020 Animal Kingdom before riding regularly at Turfway during the winter of 2020-21, where he struck at a 20% rate to finish second in the jockey rankings.

Bejarano also won four meet titles at Turfway between 2003 and 2004, back when Turfway still had a dirt track installed.