Jockey Jose Luis Flores, who suffered catastrophic neurological trauma when his mount suddenly fell and he was trampled by a trailing horse in a Parx Racing spill on Monday, died at 12:42 p.m. on Mar. 22 after being removed from life-support machinery at a Philadelphia hospital.
The all-time leading money-earning jockey at Parx never regained consciousness after the ninth-race spill on Mar. 19 and had been in a coma with no brain activity at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital. Flores’s longtime agent, Dave Yannuzzi, confirmed the death to the TDN.
Flores, 56, is being remembered as a second-generation jockey from Peru who found success in the United States by adhering to a strict work ethic while being respectful, compassionate, and helpful to others in need in the Pennsylvania racing community, where he raced for the better part of three decades.
Yannuzzi said doctors had explained earlier in the week to Flores’s’ wife, the former jockey Joanne McDaid-Flores, that there was nothing they could do to keep Flores alive without the aid of life-support machinery. But McDaid-Flores wanted to wait to remove her husband from life support to give time for his elderly parents to arrive from Florida to see their son. Complicating matters, their difficult journey north had been delayed by a day because of the storm that swept up the Eastern seaboard on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“His parents, I don’t know how they got here in this storm, but they made it,” Yannuzzi said. “Considering the circumstances, they’re holding up better than I thought. Jose and his father were very close, and both parents were very proud of what he had accomplished. He bought them a house in Florida, and everybody in his extended family, he took care of.”
Flores’s family also wanted to respect his wish to be an organ donor, which also affected the timing of life-support removal.
“He was an organ donor, so they were harvesting some organs. They took him down to the operating room and turned [the life-support machinery] off after everyone in the family had paid their respects and seen him.”
Flores grew up in Peru, where he often accompanied his father, a local jockey, to the races. He learned horsemanship and honed his riding skills at a farm before serving his apprenticeship, then moved to Panama in 1983, where he competed as a journeyman.
In 1987, Flores, then 25, made the jump stateside to Miami, where he rode at Calder Race Course, Hialeah Park, and Gulfstream Park. He tried his luck for brief stints at Tampa Bay Downs and Finger Lakes before settling at Penn National in the summer of 1990, where he won aboard his second mount and decided to stay. By 1992, he had won his first Penn National riding title, and for the rest of the decade would remain a dominant force in the local riding colony.
Trainer Scott Lake was stabled at Penn National during that time frame too. But this was before Lake’s stable evolved into a top nationally known outfit. He recalled via phone Thursday how much he appreciated Flores, then a top jockey, coming by his barn early every morning just to help out.
“I had like five horses, and my best horse ran in $2,500 claimers,” Lake said. “And he was first- or second-leading rider, riding everything for [bigger outfits]. But he’d be at my barn at five or six every morning and get on that horse and jog him the ‘wrong way.’ Then he’d go down and get on 15 or 20 more for [larger stables]. Back then, we paid our exercise riders eight dollars a head, and he knew he was saving me eight dollars [in exchange for the call in a race]. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Lake expanded his outfit and moved to Philadelphia Park (since renamed Parx) in 1999. Several months after the move, he pitched Flores on switching his tack to Philly full time to be his first-call rider. Within a year, the partnership paid off, with Lake-trained horses mostly ridden by Flores making the stable the leading North American training outfit by wins in 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2006.
“As far as a person goes, he was tremendous. He’d do anything for you, treated everyone with respect. I don’t know anyone who ever had a bad thing to say about him,” Lake said.
Yannuzzi took over as Flores’s agent in 2003, and the two have been inseparable friends and business partners for the past 15 years. Yannuzzi agreed with Lake that Flores’s personality off the track was just as defining of the man as how he acted on horseback.
“Number one, he was a gentleman. He treated everyone well. Hotwalkers and grooms, they all liked him,” Yannuzzi said. “He was very generous with his money and his time. If he decided to ride your horse, it didn’t matter if it was if it was 3-1 or 35-1. If he accepted your mount, he rode hard. Definitely one of the hardest-working riders you will ever see in your life. He was 56, his financial status was excellent, but he just loved to be out there. In December, when we had that record cold, in a span of seven days, he was out there for six of them, just to gallop and jog horses. I said ‘Are you crazy?’ He said ‘I’ve got to go out–my people need me.’”
Flores was inducted into the Parx Hall of Fame in 2013. Equibase lists him with 4,650 wins from 28,684 starts with over $64 million in earnings.
Jeff Bowen, a Thoroughbred owner who breeds and races as Gryphon Investments LLC, recalled via phone how Flores radiated a sense of trust and confidence that made Bowen believe his horses were always in good hands when they left the paddock with Flores in the irons.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Bowen said. “I have a lot of great memories with Jose. As a matter of fact, I’m standing here now looking at my trophy case. It’s got pictures of my horses winning stakes or allowance races, and Jose is on every one of them. He was the kind of guy that whenever he was on one of my horses, I was confident that he was going to give him a great ride. And when we lost, he provided valuable feedback, whether it was good or bad, on how he thought the horse could improve or something we might do differently. My fondest memory is when we went five-for-five to start the career of my homebred mare Eighth Wonder (Pioneerof the Nile), including three stakes, with Jose in the saddle every time.”
Victor Molina, who rode for many years alongside Flores in Philly, told TDN that an entire generation of jockeys who came up through the ranks at Parx benefitted from Flores’s presence as a mentor.
“He rode for a lot of years, and he touched a lot of people. I think he did try to help everybody he could,” Molina said via phone. “I think a lot of jockeys probably wanted to be like him. He took his job seriously, but he was also a fun guy. I think he loved being in the jockeys’ room, just being with and joking with the other riders. That was one of the things I got along the years–that he would get along with everybody.”
As a testament to that sentiment, scores of jockeys and members of the Parx backstretch community kept a vigil at the hospital in support of Flores and his family earlier this week.
“The turnout at the hospital this week was huge,” Molina said. “I’m at the funeral home right now with his wife and some friends trying to help with arrangements, and I know that it’s going to be a big turnout when we have the services.”
Visitation will be Tuesday, March 27, starting at 6:00 p.m. at Tomlinson Funeral Home, 2207 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, Pennsylvania. A memorial service will follow at the funeral home starting at 7:30 p.m.
Plans are also in the works to establish an online fundraising portal to assist Flores’s family and children. TDN will publish this information as soon as it becomes available.
Among his many extended family members and friends, Flores is survived by a 7-year-old son, Julian, and two adult sons, Junior and Juan.