Racing Spotlight: Vequist, Eric Cancel, Jason Barkley

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March 28th, 2021

Racing Spotlight is a weekly series that highlights a horse, jockey, and trainer with insightful information to help our players always be informed.

This week, we highlight Vequist, who looks to return to the top of Grade 1 company in the Ashland Stakes (G1); Eric Cancel, who is moving up in the New York circuit; and Jason Barkley, who is making strides at Oaklawn.

Horse spotlight: Vequist

Vequist, with two Grade 1 wins from five starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, seeks to rebound in the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on April 3 from her only finish outside the top two.  

In her career debut, she and a horse named Niente dueled eight lengths ahead of the field in a maiden special weight at Parx Racing. In a tight photo, Niente was declared the winner by a nose. Vequist caught the attention of Gary Barber and Adam Wachtel, who contacted owner/breeder Thomas McGrath of Swilcan Stables and purchased a 75% share of the filly. The group decided to keep her with Parx-based trainer Butch Reid.

Her speed figure and sharp morning training prompted the team to test her in the big leagues for her second start. She immediately jumped up to Grade 1 company for the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga. The dark bay went off at 6-1 odds, caught the field at the top of the lane, and pulled away for a decisive 9 1/2-length victory, just missing the stakes record that was set in 2009. 

She then entered the Frizette (G1) at Belmont Park as the 4-5 favorite. She gamely engaged Dayoutoftheoffice in the upper stretch, but her rival dug in and hit the wire first by two lengths. Vequist finished second and was 10 lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

Vequist and Dayoutoftheoffice rematched in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Dayoutoftheoffice set the pace early on and Vequist stalked close behind. In the final stages of the stretch run, Vequist and jockey Joel Rosario shimmied up the rail, and this time, she beat her rival by two lengths.

At the conclusion of 2020, she was named the Champion Two-Year-Old Filly.

She made her three-year old debut in Gulfstream’s Davona Dale Stakes (G2) on Feb. 27. Vequist went off as the favorite, but 52-1 Wholebodemeister shocked the field and finished first. Vequist finished ninth.

Vequist is a daughter of Nyquist, who started his career with eight consecutive wins. This streak includes the 2015 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), which was held at Keeneland, and culminated with a victory in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. Vequist is from his first crop.

Jockey Spotlight: Eric Cancel

New York rider Eric Cancel, 24, is taking his career to another level in 2021. 

He is second in Aqueduct’s jockey standings in both wins (65) and purse earnings ($3.5 million), and ranks sixth among all North American riders in earnings. He has won at a 20% rate and has finished in the trifecta at a 54% rate. 

One of his biggest moments in 2021 so far was riding Risk Taking to victory in the Withers S. (G3), putting the horse on the Kentucky Derby trail for owner Klaravich Stables. Risk Taking is trained by Chad Brown, who has won four Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Trainer.

"Eric stepped up a did a great job,” Brown said. "At every pole and on both turns he made great decisions with this horse. He's a young jockey who hasn't ridden much for us but when he has, he's made the most of those opportunities. It's a big credit to him to ride a race like this. I'm proud of him. He made a lot of good decisions in this race."

Cancel, whose parents were both jockeys, is a native of Puerto Rico. He graduated from the Escuela Vocacional Hipica school for riding and won the first race he entered. He won three more in the next two weeks and caught the attention of retired Hall of Fame jockey-turned-agent Angel Cordero, who agreed to handle his book and take him to America.

He gained his first win in the U.S. on March 8, 2015, at Gulfstream Park. Later that year, Cancel moved his tack to the New York circuit. He led all North American apprentice jockeys by earnings in 2015 and was an Eclipse finalist as Outstanding Apprentice.

He picked up his first graded stakes win aboard Smooth Daddy in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Stakes at Belmont Park on May 6, 2017.

Last year, he ranked 25th by earnings among North American jockeys.

Trainer Spotlight: Jason Barkley

Jason Barkley, a fourth-generation horseman, is currently tied for fourth by wins in the trainer standings with nine at his fourth Oaklawn Park meet.

Barkley won five races at the last two Oaklawn meetings after going winless in 2018, and he continues to grow his operation. He has a 24-horse string at Oaklawn in 2021, compared to the 15 he had last season. He also has 10-12 horses at Turfway Park.

Barkley, 31, grew up in Evansville, IN, near Ellis Park. His dad is trainer Jeff Barkley, and Jason has been around the track since he could walk. His maternal grandmother, Marcella Byers, was the first female trainer to be licensed in Louisiana. His great-grandmother, Blanche Koring, was one of the first women to be licensed as a trainer in Kentucky. 

Jason worked for his dad until enrolling in the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program in the College of Business. He also worked for trainers such as Wayne Catalano and Nick Zito, and was an assistant trainer to Wesley Ward and Joe Sharp.

Barkley started out with one horse at Ellis Park in 2017. He saddled his first career winner, Stella Nova, in a claiming race at Keeneland on Oct. 6 of that year. His first full year as a trainer was 2018.

He is based in Louisville at Churchill Downs' Trackside Training Center. After the Oaklawn meet, he will race in the Kentucky circuit.

He and his fiancé, Shelbi Kurtz - who is an assistant trainer and exercise rider - have a one-year-old daughter, Aria Leigh.