With mud on his face and in his teeth, apprentice Declan Carroll was all smiles after riding Christine Hites’ Rilla in the third race at Keeneland on Friday. Rilla ran evenly to finish sixth at 18-1, but Carroll felt like a winner in his Keeneland debut.
“It is an unbelievable experience,” said Carroll, whose initial ride was a fourth at Woodbine on Sept. 30. “Jockeys dream to ride here and I got to do it in my second career ride.”
Carroll’s parents were on hand to see the 19-year-old ride for the first time and greeted him after the race. Both have spent their careers in Thoroughbred racing and currently work for Mark Casse. Kim is an exercise rider, and David, a former trainer, is a key assistant.
“I thought he did well. I am so proud of him,” Kim Carroll said Saturday morning.
“He looked good,” David Carroll said. “I thought (Rilla) was going to be last, but she moved up some in the stretch and finished up for him.”
Plans call for Carroll to ride at Churchill Downs, where he was Saturday morning, in November and relocate to Fair Grounds for its 2018-2019 meet. Before that, he has more work to do at Keeneland, where he is named on two horses Wednesday.
“He needs to ride plenty of races, but not on the fast ones yet,” David Carroll said. “He needs to know how to change gears. Just a lot of little things. Yesterday he thought he should have been a little more aggressive out of the gate.”
Growing up around the race track, Carroll was no stranger to his agent, Joe Paulley, a Louisville native and son of former rider Julio Espinoza.
“I have known him since he was 8 or 9 years old running around the backside at Churchill Downs,” said Paulley, who also handles the riding engagements for journeyman Joe Rocco Jr. “He did a good job yesterday. He is very well spoken and I think he will have plenty of opportunities before we get down there (to Fair Grounds).”
Declan’s older sister Aisling, 22, is working as an event rider with Olympic equestrian Phillip Dutton.