Jockey Ali Rivera Heads a Strong Rider Colony

June 26, 2023

SELMA, TX- The 2023 Quarter Horse live racing season kicks off on Thursday, June 29 and despite the nationally reported heatwave in Texas, the enthusiasm is high for the 23-day meet. Post time is set for 6:15 pm (Central) with the season concluding on Saturday, August 19.

Racing fans will have an opportunity to see some standout Texas-bred Quarter Horse veterans and plenty of rising stars at Retama Park. The annual TQHA Yearling Sale, held at the Freeman Center in San Antonio, had a banner year last July and the yearlings who passed through the sale ring will have an opportunity to graduate to a new level in the TQHA Sale Futurity  on July 29. The pride of each breeder, owner and trainer will be on display that night; you don’t want to miss it!

All Work Little Play Suits Jockey Ali Rivera

Up and coming Quarter Horse jockey Ali Rivera will return in search of his second leading rider title at a Texas track this year. The 21-year-old, from Elgin, Texas, began riding just three years ago, learning the ropes from his father, Eleazar, a jockey who still rides on the Texas circuit. One of the first trainers to recognize his potential was Angel Sanchez, but Rivera gained trust by a number of horsemen with his work ethic.

Arriving early each morning for works was vital for Rivera as learning as much as possible about each mount pays off as they head to the racetrack in the evenings.  In his first season riding at Retama Park, he won just 3 races. Last year, he finished second in the standings with 20 trips to the winner’s circle. His 2022 stakes wins included the Tower of America Stakes and TQHA550 with Big Dynasty and the TQHA Classic aboard Famous Chief.

Just last month, he claimed his second leading rider title at Sam Houston Race Park, winning 33 races, and showcasing his riding prowess throughout the meet. One of the most exciting finishes of the closing night card came in the Willie Hickman Memorial Stakes in which Rivera guided his mount Jess Good Leader to the lead, holding off a hold off a furious late rally by the accomplished Jet Black Grace. It was the first stakes win by the 4-year-old bred and owned by Pete Scarmardo and trained by John Stinebaugh.  They continue to be strong supporters of Rivera.

The young rider’s agent, Aubrey Vega, books his mounts and you can be assured that he will be named on horses in pretty much every race this meet at Retama.

“Ali is a young, talented guy,” said trainer Gilberto Gonzalez. “He is very responsible and arrives early to work horses. I am very happy to have him ride for me. It’s easy to see that he loves being a jockey.”

In his third year as a jockey, Rivera has  ridden 1,139 mounts with a career record of 163 wins, 156 seconds and 144 third-place finishes with earnings of $3.2 million. He broke his clavicle in an accident at Lone Star Park last December, but two months later returned to action at Louisiana Downs before defending his title at Sam Houston Race Park.

Rivera has a solid bond with fellow rider Francisco Calderon, who also began his career in Texas. Calderon was also a leading rider in Texas before advancing to ride at Remington and finish his year at Ruidoso Downs. Honored as AQHA Champion Rider in 2017, Calderon has piloted over 800 winners, including millionaire Jess Savin Candy.

“I’ve known Ali since he began galloping horses,” explained Calderon. “He got his license at Retama and we both worked horses for Angel (Sanchez) and (the late) Leon Bard. We were roommates last year at Lone Star as it’s tough for my wife and kids to travel. He’s a good kid!”

And on opening night at Retama Park, the two talented Texans will ride against each other in the $40,000 La Villita Stakes.

Grateful for his success, Calderon is pleased to return to Retama Park and spend some quality time with his wife, Valerie and two children.

“My success at Remington Park and Ruidoso has been amazing,” stated Calderon. “But San Antonio is home for me and I always love riding at Retama.”

Humility and devotion to family are two qualities that both Rivera and Calderon share. Rivera, accepted his leading jockey award at Sam Houston, accompanied by his mother, Araceli and siblings, Oscar and Lesli

Rivera turned 21 on March 28, and while the majority of young adults look forward to elaborate parties when they finally reach that milestone, he was asked how he celebrated turning 21.

“I didn’t,’ he replied. “I was working!”

2022 Retama Park Leading Trainer Juan Diaz, Jr. in Pursuit of His Second Title

Another Texan who knows the value of good horses and hard work is Juan Diaz, Jr. The 34-year-old resident of Floresville, Texas won 26 races here last summer, including the $552,520 TQHA Sale Futurity (RG2) with Carlos Ponce’s Bye Corona Bye and just claimed his third consecutive title at Sam Houston Race Park, making 32 trips to the winner’s circle. His victory training Juan M Lozano’s homebredJess Flying Cowgirl in the $461,835 Sam Houston Futurity (G2 vaulted him into the Sam Houston history books as the only trainer since 1994 to claim three editions of the prestigious championship.

Entries were strong for opening weekend with many horsemen, including Toby Keeton, John Stinebaugh, Jason Driver, Brian Stroud, Roberto Madrigal, Alvin Francis, Jr., JB Morace, Kie Mushinski, Frank Mendez and Tammy Kay Johnson planning to run horses in the 2023 live racing season.

Stakes Schedule for the 2023 Retama Park Quarter Horse Meet

The 23-day meet will feature 24 stakes with two stakes carded on opening night. The marquee weekend of the season takes place at the end of July. On Friday, July 28, Retama Park will present its Texas Summer Showdown Night with six stakes saluting Texas-bred Quarter Horses. The $100,000-added TQHA Sale Futurity (RG2) will be contested on Saturday, July 29 as well as the $100,000-added Retama Park Derby.

The racing office is under the direction of racing secretary Mike Acton; [email protected];

Racing office: 210-651-7043.  Below please find the stakes schedule and listing of trial dates for the Retama Park Quarter Horse live racing season.


Retama Park Quarter Horse Stakes Schedule


Thursday, June 29

$40,000 The Friendship Stakes*  - 3 YO - 330 yards

$40,000 La Villita Stakes*3 YO Fillies - 330 yards


Friday, June 30

$40,000 King William Stakes3 YO & up350 yards

$40,000 Tower of the America Stakes3 YO & up550 yards

$40,000 Selma Stakes3 YO & up F&M - 350 yards

$40,000 San Marcos Stakes - 3 YO & up870 yards


Friday, July 28

$50,000-added TQHA”550” Stakes(RG3)*3 YO & up550 yards

$30,000-added Jones Bloodstock Starter S.(RG3)* - 3 YO & up350 yards

$50,000-added Miss Retama Stakes*3 YO & up F&M350 yards

$50,000-added Sophomore Stakes*3 YO & up400 yards

$50,000-added Benny Pennington Memorial S.*3 YO & up  - 870 yards

$60,000-added TQHA Classic Stakes(RG3)*3 YO & up400 yards

$50,000-added TQHA “250” Stakes*3 YO & up - 250 yards


Saturday, July 29

$100,000-added TQHA Sale Futurity (RG2)2 YO350 yards

$100,000-added Retama Park Derby3 YO400 yards


Friday, August 5, 2021

$30,000-added Texas Arabian Oaks(G3)3 & 4 YO Arabian F&M1 Mile

$30,000-added Texas Arabian Derby G3)3 & 4 YO Arabians1 & 1/16th  Mile


Saturday, August 7, 2021

$50,000-added Sires Cup Derby3 YO350 yards

$75,000-added Sires’ Cup Futurity (RG3)2 YO350 yards

$50,000-added Bank of America TX Challenge3 YO & up440yards

$35,000-added Colors of the Alamo Paint and Appaloosa Futurity - 2 YO - 350 yards

$20,000-added Colors of the Wind Paint and Appaloosa Stakes - 3 YO & up350 yards   


*Accredited Texas-breds


Retama Park Quarter Horse Trial Dates


Thursday, July 6 - Retama Park Derby Trials

Friday, July 7 - TQHA Sale Futurity Trials

Thursday, August 3 - Colors of the Alamo Paint & Appaloosa Trials

Thursday, July 27 - Bank of America Texas Challenge Trials                    

Friday, August 4 - Sires’ Cup Futurity Trials

Saturday, August 5 - Sires’ Cup Derby Trials


About Retama Park

Retama Park is a Class 1 pari-mutuel horse racetrack located in Selma, Texas, just 20 minutes from downtown San Antonio. Live Quarter Horse race takes place each summer, while simulcast wagering and racing from around the U.S. is shown year-round. Owned by Penn Entertainment Inc. (NASDAQ – PENN), the racetrack, opened in 1995 and will host its 28th year of operation with its annual live racing season commencing on June 29, 2023. For more information, please follow on: FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.


Photos:  Coady Photography