In summer 2008, Samuel began courses at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he is majoring in Architecture/Construction Management. Samuel says, "My main goal is to be an architect and have my own company."
Samuel is described by his instructors as a young man of exceptional dedication and integrity. To make it to college, Samuel applied himself diligently in high school, but what is exceptional and impressive is that he performed very well while still working full-time throughout his high school years. He worked until 10:00 p.m. evenings, and then came home to do his homework.
Samuel Almaraz, Sr., came to California at age 16 from Guadalajara, Mexico. He followed his father, who was seeking a better life for his family. Since arriving, Almaraz, Sr. has remarkably and devotedly only worked for one trainer, the Eclipse Award winner and Hall of Fame inductee Jack Van Berg.
Beginning as a hot walker and now serving as assistant trainer/foreman, the senior Almaraz has been there with Van Berg as part of the rich history of North American Thoroughbred racing. Among the numerous greats coming out of the Van Berg stable were Alysheba, winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and 1988 Breeders' Cup Classic, and Gate Dancer, 1984 Preakness winner.
Van Berg has known Almaraz, Jr. since childhood. He praised Samuel as "the finest young man that any parent would want. He is a gentleman, who is as hard working as his father and uncles who also work for me."
Joseph is a first-year student at Cal State Los Angeles, majoring in Journalism/ Communications.
Always having an interest in the subject of History, Joseph explained that, "studying the past has allowed me to do what I enjoy most by researching and analyzing historic sources, while developing my own ideas and opinions on that source. I see myself one day as an investigative journalist or possibly teaching History or English."
Joseph's father Jose, known on the backstretch as "Pepe," is a native of in Lima, Peru. "My father was a trainer in Peru, and I was born at the racetrack where I learned to walk, groom, and exercise horses, and where, at age 16, I became a professional jockey," says Pepe. Immigrating to the US in 1978, he continued his career as a jockey, but returned to exercising in 1987 due to weight gain.
Pepe has worked for prominent trainers John Gosden, Richard Mandella, and Bruce Headley, finally settling in with the Bob Baffert stable for the past 11 years. He has helped condition many greats, such as Bates Motel, Bertrando, Phone Trick, Silver Charm, Silverbulletday, Excellent Meeting, Chiluki, Congare, Point Given, and Captain Steve. While working for Baffert, the Dubai World Cup was won by Silver Charm and Captain Steve, and they had other spectacular wins that included the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont. Pepe says, "My career at the racetrack has left me with unforgettable experiences and lessons in life for which I am extremely grateful."
Jenee Brittney B.
Jenee's parents, Jim and Dana Barnes, are both California grown. Jim's introduction into this industry came in early childhood from parents who owned race horses and taught him racing from the bottom up; Dana spent her youth showing horses and developing her riding skills.
Directing their careers at horse racing, Jim and Dana went on to work for various prominent trainers, including Charlie and Mike Whittingham, David Hofmans, and Eddie Gregson. But for the past ten years, Jim, as assistant trainer, and Dana, as a freelance exercise rider, have worked for Bob Baffert in a barn that includes Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and War Emblem.
Bob and Jill Baffert tell us they've "watched Jenee mature into a capable, intelligent, and industrious young woman. She is very close to her family and values per parent's advice; she respects the sacrifice and hard work their careers on the racetrack have demanded. We look forward to watching Jenee on her journey, and thank the Gregson Foundation for helping make her dreams a reality."
Elizabeth is a first-generation graduate from high school, as well college bound student. Currently attending Cal State Los Angeles, she is taking courses enabling her to become a Social Worker. Elizabeth says, "I am very proud to be the first person in my family to go to a university."
Parent Francisco Contreras comes from a small town in Jalisco, Mexico. In 1981, at age 21, he joined his brother as a stable area worker at Santa Anita. "My dad lives to be around horses because he grew up with them," says Elizabeth. "He is a very hard working man, and he loves his job at the track."
Francisco worked a lengthy time with trainer D. Wayne Lukas, but for the past fifteen years has worked as a groom for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. Over a 24-year career, Francisco has groomed many notable horses, such as Action This Day, Woodman's Prospect and Lake William.
Noel Contreras F.
Noel is a 23 year-old Mexican national attending the University of Guadalajara. He is studying veterinary medicine. Through diligence and hard work, Noel expects to graduate as a vet in December 2009.
Fidel Contreras Flores came to California in 1959 as part of the US Bracero Program. He worked in agriculture through the program end in 1964, then moved straight into the horseracing industry since he was a certified caballerango (groom) back home in Tamazula, Mexico.
Over the years, Fidel has worked for trainers Lou Carno, Tommy Doyle, Joe Canty, Joe Manzi, and Charlie Whittingham. Since 2003, he has worked for respected Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally in a barn that included 2003 Pacific Classic champion Candy Ride and 2005 Eddie Read Handicap winner Sweet Return.
Luciano wants to become a Fire Fighter/Paramedic. Currently taking courses as Palomar Community College, he will soon transfer to Cal State San Marcos pursuing his degree in Fire Fighter/Fire Technology.
Recommending Luciano as a Gregson scholarship recipient, trainer Leigh Ann Howard says, "The fires of 2003 and the past 2007 fire disaster have focused everyone's attention on Southern California fires. I think it is wonderful Luciano is interested in a firefighting career."
Luciano's father, Ignacio, is currently an exercise rider for Paul Schiewe based at San Luis Rey Downs. From Guadalajara, Mexico, Ignacio came to America at age 14. Both parent worked at Santa Anita for trainer Mike Whittingham, and so he, too, started hot walking in the barn at age 16. He has worked for various trainers over the years, Eddie Gregson, Richard Mulhall, Richard Mandella, Sam Semkin, and many years with Fabio Nor, transitioning from hot walker, to groom, to foreman, then to exercise rider in later years.
Luciano has cared for many great horses, notably he was the hot walker for Gregson trained Gato del Sol, winner of the 1982 Kentucky Derby, and was groom for Desert Stormer, winner of 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Saul V. M.
With the assistance of the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation, Saul has successfully completed courses in the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School. He is now apprenticing with an established Southern California farrier and looks forward to a career in horseracing.
Saul comes from a family of horsemen going back to his great grandparents whose careers in racing are rooted in Mexico. His uncle is trainer Alfredo Marquez for whom his father currently serves as assistant trainer.
Marquez, Sr. was born in Tijuana, Mexico. At age 15, he began work at Agua Caliente, thereafter following uncle Alfredo to the Northern California racing circuit for a few years before settling in Southern California. Notable horses in the Marquez barn are Peach Flat, Lord Sterling, 2001 Oak Leaf Stakes winner Tali'sluckybusride, and Irguns Angel, winner of the 2002 A Gleam Handicap.
Leandro Mora is a well-recognized face in thoroughbred racing, known throughout the stable area from playing in the backstretch soccer league to currently serving as assistant trainer to Doug O'Neill. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Leandro started work at Del Mar at age 17 at the invitation of his father's best friend. He starting walking hots for Gary Jones, then moved on to David Bernstein's barn where his hard work graduated him to assistant trainer. He next moved on to work with Brian Mayberry for several years.
A history with successful barns, in the O'Neill barn he has had the privilege to work with Avanzando, Fleetstreet Dancer, Skyjack, and spectacular champion Lava Man.
Jesus is a freshman at Cal State Los Angeles, where he is majoring in Biology. He plans to one day enter the health care field and is debating whether to continue his studies toward dentistry or general medicine.
Jesus says, "I have always been compelled to help people, and I love everything about medical science. Becoming involved with any work that is health related would be an ideal career choice for me."
Jesus's father, Alberto, is from a small pueblo in Jalisco, Mexico. He was told by many that it was better to work in the United States, so, when he was old enough, he joined an uncle already working in the Mike Mitchell barn in Southern California. He has now been involved in the horseracing industry for over twenty years. Through this period, he has also worked for trainers Hector Palma, Eduardo Inda, and is currently working as an extra groom for Ron Ellis.
Teresa is attending Cal State Northridge. She has set her sites on entering the health care field, and is currently majoring in Kinesiology. Teresa says, "The religious views with which I have been raised have helped shape my aspirations to help others. I want to become medically trained and prepared to be able to help save lives."
Teresa's father, Jose Osorio Herrera, was born in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. The sixth born of seven siblings, his adolescent years were very harsh as he had been abducted and forced into serving in his country's military. Surviving that turmoil, he came to the United States at age 25 seeking a better life.
For Jose, that better life has been in the California Thoroughbred horse racing industry. His first employer was D. Wayne Lukas, but for the past three years, he has walked hots for Richard Mandella. Notable horses that Jose has worked with are One Union, Dixie Chatter, and Into Mischief.
"My father is a very dedicated man who loves his family and his job. All the hard work that my father has undertaken in his life is described in the palms of his hands, and I greatly appreciate all he has done on my behalf," says Teresa.
Attending CSU Monterey Bay, Kevin is majoring in Telecommunications, Multimedia, & Applied Computing. It is his plan to work in the video game industry. Kevin is described as focused, goal oriented, and self motivated. "He is one of the most determined students I have come across in my counseling career," noted his Mission High School counselor.
Kevin comes from a batch of siblings ranking high in academics. Brother Michael is a graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in Computer Science. Sister Kathryn is a graduate of UC San Diego with a degree in Visual Arts (media) pursuing documentary filmmaking, and sister Sarah is currently a UC Berkeley student double majoring in English and Psychology. All have preceded Kevin as Gregson Foundation scholarship recipients.
Kevin's mom, Mary Panian, is an exercise rider of over 15 years. During the '70's & '80's, she worked for legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham and was known as one of his famed "Charlie's Angels," galloping and working countless of his champion horses. Mary is now based in San Luis Rey Downs.
David is a student at Palomar College. Not declaring a major as of yet, he says, "I'm very much interested and motivated to obtain the best education possible for myself."
David Tellez, Sr.'s experience with horses started on his parent's farm in Michoacán, Mexico. He grew up enjoying caring for horses due to their co-existence on the farm. "I have been given the opportunity to work in other industries, but I am comfortable and at home here with horse racing," says Tellez.
Always based at San Luis Rey Downs, Tellez, Sr. has worked for several trainers, but in 1987 settled in with Sam Semkin in a barn operation that prepares young horses for trainers such as Richard Mandella and Darrell Vienna.
Maria Isabel Landeros T.
Maria is majoring in Business Administration at the Universidad Metropolitana de Centro in Mexico. Upon obtaining her degree later this year, Maria says, "I see myself in a positive work environment where I can further advance the skills I have learned at the university and, ultimately, become a successful businesswoman."
Out of Zacatecas, Mexico, at age 16, Maria's father, Roman, joined his own father and brothers already working at Golden Gate Fields. In 1997, he made the move to So. California, where he has worked with trainers Mike Puype for Cobra Farms, Eoin Harty for Godolphin, Doug O'Neill, Donald Warren, and now with Bob Baffert.
While in the Harty stable, Roman was groom for 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly winner Tempera, as well as for the second place finisher, Imperial Gesture. As a Baffert swing groom, Roman has the good fortune to be able to work with all stable horses, such as current stars Major Marv, Mythical Power, and Indian Blessing.