Concepcion Credits Maryland for Championship Season

Concepcion Credits Maryland for Championship Season

Teenager Earns Eclipse Award as Leading Apprentice Rider

LAUREL, MD – His first career win came in Louisiana, and he now calls Kentucky home, but newly crowned Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey Axel Concepcion is most grateful for the place where he cultivated his championship season – in Maryland.

A native of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico who doesn’t turn 19 until March 16, Concepcion became the 13th Maryland-based rider to be named champion apprentice and the first since Alexander Crispin in 2020, accepting the honor at Thursday night’s awards dinner in Palm Beach, Fla. Jaime Torres and Sofia Vives were the other finalists.

Previous Maryland-based winners have been Chris McCarron (1974), Ronnie Franklin (1978), Alberto Delgado (1982), Allen Stacy (1986), Kent Desormeaux (1987), Mike Luzzi (1989), Mark Johnston (1990), Jeremy Rose (2001), Ryan Fogelsonger (2002), Victor Carrasco (2013) and Weston Hamilton (2018). Carrasco continues to be based in Maryland.

Concepcion led all Maryland apprentice riders with 66 wins at Laurel Park and historic Pimlico Race Course, ranking sixth overall, to go along with $2,391,405 in purse earnings. He topped all apprentices with a total of 198 wins and $5,172,214 in purses earned from 1,002 mounts in North America.

“I think Maryland is the best place for an apprentice to learn to ride,” Concepcion said. “You get a chance to keep working, keep learning from all the good jocks. You ride all kinds of races. The trainers give a lot of opportunities for apprentices. I rode my whole apprentice year in Maryland, so it’s a very special place for me.”

After graduating from its famed Escuela Vocacional Hipica, Concepcion won 21 races in Puerto Rico before coming to the U.S. and riding his first winner, Smokey Harbor, Feb. 19, 2023 at Fair Grounds. He quickly relocated to Maryland, represented by Karin Wagner and Tom Stift, and earned his first local winner five days later on Shinelikeadiamond at Laurel.

In his first full meet, Concepcion won two races on closing day to lead all riders during Laurel’s spring stand and become just the fourth apprentice in the past decade to win a Laurel riding title following Yomar Ortiz (2013), Julio Correa (2019) and Jeiron Barbosa (2022).

Concepcion registered a four-win day Aug. 19, 2023 at Laurel including his first stakes victory aboard Mike Maker-trained millionaire Field Pass in the $75,000 Find for Maryland-bred/sired horses on the turf.

“There are a lot of jocks from Puerto Rico in Maryland, guys like Jaime Rodriguez, Angel Cruz, Jeiron Barbosa [and] Jevian Toledo who helped me and taught me a lot,” Concepcion said. “I’m very grateful to Karin and Tom for the great job they did for me, too. I’m very fortunate and blessed.”

Concepcion last rode in Maryland at Laurel Oct. 5, moving his tack to Kentucky in late November. He is currently riding at Turfway Park where he ranked third with $325,162 in purse earnings and fourth with seven wins from 61 mounts. Turfway’s meet ends March 30, after which Concepcion plans to stay in the Midwest and ride at Keeneland spring. Bryson Cox, son of trainer Brad Cox, is his agent.

“I’m very excited and thank God for the opportunity to have the great year that I’ve had,” Concepcion said. “I’m very grateful to the owners and trainers for the support. It was a lot of hard work all through the year. It’s a dream come true. It was my dream to win the Eclipse my first year. It takes hard work and dedication and it’s a very special win for me.”