Juan Andrade is trying to make up for lost time. As a child growing up in Guadalajara, Andrade spent most of his spare time bull riding, while his older cousin, former riding star Oscar Andrade learned everything there was to learn about riding Quarter Horses.
"My dad wouldn't let me ride horses," Juan Andrade said. "He would let me get on bulls but not on horses."
Oscar Andrade would eventually make his way to Los Alamitos Race Course, where he would become a top rider, a two-time winner of the Kindergarten Futurity and still the track's record holder for most riding wins in a single night with seven victories. An unfortunate riding accident left him paralyzed from the waist down in late summer of 2001.
Juan, who grew up idolizing his older cousin, wasted no time in coming to California after he turned 20 with the purpose of learning about horse racing. "I started getting on horses at a local ranch here," Andrade said. "Jesus Nunez was the first one to give me a chance to get on horses."
A little over a year ago, Andrade, who is now 23, started riding horses regularly at Los Alamitos. Last year, he piloted 10 winners and he's already been in the winner's circle twice this season. His biggest win of 2006 came in the richest Paint Horse race in California when he piloted 40-1 longshot Gone With The Cash to victory in the Grade 1 Masterpiece Paint Horse Futurity. In Andrade's corner is his idol, who is now his mentor and strongest supporter - Oscar Andrade.
"My goal is to be as good a rider as Oscar," Andrade began. "I know I'll never be as good as him, but that's my goal."
"He's doing fine," Oscar said. "As he gains more experience, he could become a pretty good rider. My advice to him is to give it everything he's got every single day."
Juan soaks up advice from Oscar like a sponge soaks up water.
"Whenever Juan comes to our house all he wants to do is talk to Oscar about riding," said Oscar's wife, trainer Elena Andrade. "He asks Oscar a lot of questions - everything from how to warm up a horse to using the whip, etc. I always tell him that he needs to do a good job because it's our name out there. I know he's trying hard and he knows that he still has a lot of room to improve."
"We talk about his riding style a lot," Oscar added. "His style will improve as he gains more experience."
Juan has already impressed some trainers with his work ethic.
"I like Juan a lot - he works hard on a horse and he makes them go," said trainer Patricia Visscher, who saddled Gone With The Cash in the Masterpiece. "I loved the way he rode Gone With The Cash to victory."
"I try to ride him on as many horses as I can," said trainer Linda Godinez. "He's a good kid. He's always there ready to help and my husband (former jockey Jessie Godinez) and I appreciate that a great deal. Jessie also talks to him about riding a lot."
Juan showed his knack for helping a horse perform over their heads when he rode Gerald Kaul's Tempting Winner to a surprising win at 29-1 odds for trainer Vince Smith on January 4. He'll be aboard Tom and Cheri Gayton's Ought To Be Roses for Smith in the seventh race on Sunday.
Juan has also hired Dennis Christiansen as his agent for this season. Previously, Christiansen booked mounts for Oscar Andrade.
"He was starting to get named for different horses in the same race," Elena said. "That's when we told him that he needed someone to help him with his business. He really wants to make Oscar proud."