For Tiago Pereira, the ‘Skye’ Isn’t His Limit

The names of the 19 jockeys who have won the 23 editions of the Dubai World Cup is a virtual list of the most elite in the sport of horseracing globally for the past two decades — from champions in Europe and the Far East, to American Hall of Famers and Eclipse Award winners and also perennial meet leaders at the most prominent racetracks in all hemispheres. The world’s second-richest race has consistently drawn the best of the best. And the jockeys tapped to ride in it, let alone visit the winner’s circle, are no exception.

Tiago Pereira aboard Skye Diamonds (photo by Ernie Belmonte)

Tiago Pereira aboard Skye Diamonds (photo by Ernie Belmonte)

But why — less than a week away from the 35th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs — are we even talking about the Dubai World Cup, which is still five months away? Because nestled neatly between hallmark names like Bailey, Dettori, Stevens, Buick, Smith and Soumillion on the winner’s list of Dubai’s signature race is one that may not be as widely known, but perhaps should be.

Tiago Pereira, who was aboard Brazilian invader Gloria de Campeao for a win in Dubai’s signature race in 2010, will return to the international racing stage in just his second Breeders’ Cup appearance this year aboard Bloom Racing, Allen Racing, Tom Acker and Jon Lindo’s Filly and Mare Sprint candidate Skye Diamonds.

Pereira is eager for Skye Diamonds to improve on an impressive fourth-place finish in the same race a year ago, when she was beaten just 3 ½ lengths by Bar of Gold, and the 41-year-old journeymen is also hoping a win will finally provide him with the name recognition he’s been working his entire life for and, quite frankly, has probably earned.

“It is very strange for me,” Pereira said, his broken English peppered with some Portugese and hand gestures in an attempt to be understood. “I went to Belmont Park for one race one time and the people — many people — they come over to me and show me pictures and say to me, ‘Please sign your name.’ Pictures of me and [Gloria de Campeao]. Here? Maybe two or three. Nobody here knows my name. New York is very open while California is so closed.”

So far in his career, which began in his native Brazil in 1994, Pereira has won nearly 2,000 races in multiple countries such as Dubai, Macau, Chile, Singapore, France, Argentina, and Uruguay, and has been aboard a number of stakes winners — most notably Gloria de Campeao and, now, Skye Diamonds. He was not born into racing and actually only learned to ride after an accidental brush with horse racing while watching 200- and 300-yard match races near his father’s home as a child.

“I went to watch the races near my father’s [house] and a man there sees me and says, ‘Hey, you’re small, do you want to ride?’ It was so exciting, I said yes and he [taught] me and I became a jockey. And I love it, I love to be a rider.”

And after spending more than half his life traveling, in early 2014, Pereira and his wife, Fernanda, decided to move to California where he could try his luck on the deep and notoriously difficult Southern California racing scene. Though his business in California started out somewhat slowly, producing just 49 wins from 486 starts in 2014, things have been steadily improving and, this year, he’s already having his best year yet with two months left to go in the season, having ridden 78 winners while being in the top half of the rider standings for all the race meetings so far. He and his agent, Patty Sterling, who gave up a position as a clocker to take his book, rarely miss a day of morning works and are starting to finally enjoy the fruits of their labor, thanks to some strong relationships with solid connections.

“We ride for some really good, solid outfits,” Sterling said. “Koriner, D’Amato, Glatt, Aguirre. They have given us a lot of opportunities and we’re happy for the chance and to ride for them because they are consistently sending out good horses and winners.”

Perhaps the most notable outfit the pair have connected with is trainer Bill Spawr, who has been in charge of the career of Skye Diamonds since claiming her for her owners for $40,000 at Del Mar back in the summer of 2016. In fact, the 5-year-old daughter of First Dude has been Pereira’s most consistent and most productive mount. He has been aboard the chestnut in all but one of her 15 starts since being haltered and has picked up three graded stakes wins with placings in a handful of others.

“I ride her first for [trainer] Mike Machowsky and then she was claimed,” Pereira explained of his first time aboard Skye Diamonds. “And then I ride her each time after except one time and we win a lot of very good races.”

Tiago Pereira (photo by Ernie Belmonte).

Jockey Tiago Pereira (photo by Ernie Belmonte).

He’s also very hopeful for their best finish yet in their final appearance together — she’s set to be offered as a racing/broodmare prospect at Fasig-Tipton in Lexington the next day — and that they together finally earn the elusive Grade 1.

“It has always been my dream to win big stakes races,” Pereira said. “To win a Breeders’ Cup race with Skye Diamonds would be the best feeling. She runs so good for me and I am lucky to have her and ride her. And I hope so much she win[s].”

Pereira and Sterling aren’t out to reinvent the wheel. Both have been in the game long enough to know that success in racing is actually less about luck and more hard work and dedication to go along with the talent and ability. Good horses, they agree, are what it’s all about.

“Turf, dirt, five furlongs, ten furlongs, it doesn’t matter,” Pereira said. “I just prefer good horses. If I have the good horse, you win. Easy. It has always been my dream to win big stakes, this is the biggest feeling for me. This is why I like to ride Skye Diamonds, she give me that feeling. Aside from my wife and daughter [2-year-old Valentina] winning races makes me the most happy.”

Ten Questions With Tiago

  1. Mexican food or Italian food: “Barbeque.”
  2. Favorite Television Show: “Whatever the baby is watching on Netflix.”
  3. Favorite movie: “Anything action. I love action movies.”
  4. Favorite racetrack: “Meydan.”
  5. Favorite non-racing sport: “Football [soccer].”
  6. Favorite color: “Red.”
  7. Dog or cat?: “Dog.”
  8. Skiing or surfing?: “None. Probably surfing.”
  9. Guilty pleasure: “Spending time with Valentina.”
  10. Favorite Breeders’ Cup moment: “Post parade in last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar on Skye Diamonds.”
Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.