Jose Campos has good reasons, four of them, to be exact, to believe he can make the 2023 Woodbine Thoroughbred season a special one.
Nearly 4,000 kilometres currently separates the 31-year-old jockey from the racetrack he will saddle up at this year, the trifecta-track oval where he rode in 192 races in 2022.
For now, Campos is in Mexico City, spending quality time with his wife Giovanna and their three children, daughter Selenia, and sons, Jose Luis, and Thiago, ahead of his return to Toronto in late March.
When talk turns to his second season and first full campaign at Woodbine, Campos, one of Mexico’s leading jockeys, sports a wide smile, what he views as a game changer for his riding career in Canada.
“I’m going to try and bring them in April so that we can be together. It’s going to be better for me. My family means everything. My wife, she has always helped me a lot. When you are without your family, it is not easy. When they are here, I think it’s going to be better for me. It’s going to be good.”
While home is the capital city of Mexico, Campos has found another place of comfort in the form of Woodbine.
He made his Toronto oval debut on October 9, finishing ninth aboard 63-1 longshot Grand Gizmo in a 1 1/16-mile Inner Turf race.
Not a Hollywood ending by any stretch, but a moment that reinforced what Campos was thinking about his move to Canada.
“I had tried to come to Woodbine two or three years ago, but I couldn’t because of the pandemic. So, when I came to Toronto, I was so happy. It was a good opportunity for me, and I wanted to make the most of it. The first race, I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I remember being on the track before the race and looking around and smiling. I was thinking about the feeling I would have when I won my first race.”
On October 20, in race six, Campos experienced just that, teaming with Ima Daredevil, a 5-year-old daughter of Daredevil, to win the 6 ½-furlong claiming race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, by 6 ½ lengths.
“It was like a dream had come true. I was so happy. It was one of the best days in my career. To be in the winner’s circle after three years of trying to get to Woodbine, I said, ‘Yes! This is what I want.’”
By season’s end, he made 16 trips to the winner’s circle, accompanied by 69 top-three finishes and $743,933 in purse earnings.
Campos rode in seven stakes races, his best finish a second with Norseman Racing Stable 2-year-old One Bay Hemingway in the Grade 3 Grey.
His final win of 2022 came aboard Bold Reload, a Florida-bred son of Reload, on closing day of the Woodbine Thoroughbred meet.
“The racetrack is amazing. The main track is great. The E.P. Taylor is one of the best turf courses in the world, and we are lucky to have another nice turf course too. I love it. Woodbine is one of the best racetracks for sure.”
Support, from fellow riders, was immediate.
“Everyone came to me and said that if I needed anything to let them know. Emma [Jayne-Wilson], Patrick [Husbands], Luis [Contreras], Rafael [Hernandez], and a lot of others made me feel comfortable. There are so many good riders here. We have a good colony. It’s not easy to be out of your country without your family.”
Campos’ agent, former Woodbine rider Gerry Olguin, provided him with more than just riding opportunities.
The lifetime winner of 2,000 races, who was born in California, but raised in Mexico, did his best to make Campos feel at ease away from the racetrack.
“Jose has excellent qualities for a jockey, and he is a really hard worker,” praised Olguin. He’s also a natural lightweight, which is a huge plus.”
Campos is grateful for Olguin’s efforts to make the transition to Woodbine a smooth one.
“He’s a good friend. I lived in his house the last two months of the season. It was really good for me. His wife [Robin] and son [Kai] are very nice people too.”
Soon enough, Campos will have more familiar faces around.
A win-win scenario for a rider with an ambitious goal for 2023, one he believes is within his grasp when the season gets out of the gates on April 22.
“I’m going to try and be in the top five. I know it’s not easy because I’m new and I have to work hard, but that is what I want to do this year. I feel good in every way. I feel good in front, off the pace, whatever the situation is. Wherever I am in the race, I’m going to try to win. So, I want to try and be in the top five here.”
A place that has already felt like home and will even more in a few months.