Joanne McDaid-Flores standing with her son Julien behind the helmet, boots and riding crop of her late husband Jose Flores, who was being remembered last Saturday at a Winners Circle ceremony at his home track at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa., five days after his death.
By John Manley
Theirs was an only in America story.
He found his way to America from humble origins in Peru, while she came over seeking the type of opportunity that is seldom afforded women in her chosen profession in Ireland. They bonded over that profession. From there romance bloomed and they married, becoming parents to a son, and living the American dream. Until Monday of last week.
That’s when the dangers of their profession descended upon their dream. Their profession is perhaps the only one of its sort that has a trailing ambulance in attendance, just in case. They were jockeys.
Last Monday is when Jose Flores accepted his last mount aboard Love Rules in the ninth race at Parx, north of downtown Philadelphia, Just last month, he’d ridden the horse to its first victory since 2016. Flores and Love Rules, a 6-year-old horse that went off at 14-1 odds in a field off 11 in this starter allowance sprint, were battling for the lead when the gelding suddenly went wrong around the far turn.
Jose Flores was 57.
A fractured shoulder caused Love Rules to pitch to the ground, with Flores right on top of him. When the EMTs reached Flores less than a minute after he’d gone down, they found him unresponsive, presumably struck in the head by one of the two trailing rivals that also fell when they were unable to steer clear.
Flores was comatose upon arriving at the hospital and was placed on life support until family members from distant states could assemble. On Thursday, the life support was removed and he succumbed shortly thereafter.
Flores, 57, began his career in his native Peru and arrived in North America in 1987. Soon thereafter, he established himself at the Pennsylvania tracks, where he rode the bulk of his 4,650 North American winners, which ranks him 42nd overall on this continent. He is the all-time money-winning jockey at Parx, which began as Keystone in 1974 and was subsequently renamed Philadelphia Park in 1984. The track took the name Parx upon adding a casino in 2009.
Flores’s widow, Joanne McDaid-Flores, is a native of County Donegal and a graduate of the Racing Academy & Centre of Education (RACE) in County Kildare. Upon completing the program, she began a successful career as a jockey at Parx, where she rode for several years until retiring to tend full-time to their son Julien, now 7 years old.
The Tuesday program at Parx was canceled out of respect for Flores and a memorial service was held a week later. Maria Remedio, a fellow jockey and close friend of the family, has begun a fundraising project to help McDaid-Flores cope with the financial burden of her loss. Contributions can be made at www.gofundme.com/dealing-with-a-loss.