Like many Dominicans, Joel Rosario grew up with the dream of becoming a baseball player; however, his size was not his best ally. Instead of being intimidated, Rosario turned his stature into his best resource, and he has become one of the top jockeys in horse racing.
On Saturday, the 28-year-old Rosario rode Orb to victory in the 139th Kentucky Derby, the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown and the nation's most prestigious race.
With a spectacular move on the last turn, Orb jumped out of the bottom three on his way to winning by 2½ lengths on a muddy track at Churchill Downs in front of a crowd of 156,616.
In the country that sends the highest number of foreign-born players to the major leagues, this was the most important news since the Dominican Republic won the World Baseball Classic two months ago.
"Plantain power," Rosario told ESPNdeportes.com about his win in Louisville. Dominicans give almost magical powers to the plantain, a fruit that is a key element in their daily diets as a source of energy.
"This is very important to me, is something that makes me feel proud, to be mentioned amongst these people, is something huge," Rosario said. "Baseball rules in my country, I'm a big fan and always tune in to the games."
In 1999, Rosario began his career at age 14 in Santo Domingo, and seven years later he moved to California to try to take the step to horse racing's big leagues, something he accomplished with outstanding results. He has collected more than 1,600 victories -- including six on Dec. 11, 2011, at Hollywood Park, tying the record for wins in a day -- and over the past five years has placed among the top five in wins and earnings. He moved to New York two years ago.
Last March, he rode Animal Kingdom to victory at the Dubai World Cup, an event that features a $10 million purse, largest in the world. Overall, he has close to $13 million in earnings in the first four months of 2013, including $1.4 million for the victory in the Derby.
"The win at Dubai opened the doors to new opportunities," Rosario said. "It would be very important to me and the Dominican jockeys if I finish with the most victories and earned money; a great accomplishment."
To Rosario, winning the Kentucky Derby was a gratifying experience, but that is yesterday's news. Now he is focused on the May 18 Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and the June 8 Belmont Stakes in New York, the remaining legs of the Triple Crown. No horse since Affirmed in 1978 has swept all three of America's biggest races.
"Of course we can do it; nothing is impossible," Rosario said. "Nothing is decided yet, but I'm pretty sure I will ride Orb in the last two legs of the Triple Crown. I hope he stays healthy."
A positive attitude is something Rosario has always had. He did not fall into a state of frustration because of all the obstacles he faced pursuing his dream of becoming a ballplayer while growing in San Francisco de Macoris, on the northern side of the Dominican Republic. And a positive attitude was all he had with him when he arrived in the U.S.
"In life, nothing is easy, nobody gets things for free," he said. "You have to work. At first, it was not easy, but thank God, I've done pretty well."