A Need for Speed: Remington Park jockey James Flores' hobby is drag racing
James Flores likes to go fast, whether in a car or on a horse.
When the Claremore resident is not sitting in a jockey saddle trying to win a high-stakes horse race, he often can be found sitting behind the wheel of his souped-up Chevy S-10 trying to win a drag race.
Flores, 27, makes his living as a jockey and lately he has been living well. He has won more races than any other jockey each of the past two quarter horse seasons at Remington Park, which opens its 2020 campaign on Friday.
Last September, Flores rode Mr. Jeff Jenkins to victory in the $3 million All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico, the richest race in North America for a 2-year-old of any breed.
As a jockey, Flores has won more than 600 races in his career and more than $13 million. He spends much of his share of the purses to support his other passion, drag racing. When he is not racing horses over a quarter mile, he often can be found racing vehicles over the quarter mile at places like Thunder Valley Raceway in Lexington, Tulsa Raceway Park or tracks in Texas.
Besides the distance, quarter horse racing and drag racing also have other things in common, he said.
You've got to get out of the gate fast. Racehorse or race car, you must know how it handles. And you need to go straight. The fastest way to the finish line is a straight line.
“When I am on a horse, I try to picture myself being in a car, and when I am in a car, I try to picture myself being on a horse,” Flores said. “Sounds crazy, but it really helps me respond better.”
Flores' love for racing, both horses and cars, began when he was a young boy growing up in the south Texas town of Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley. As a boy, he wanted to race motocross, and one Christmas asked his dad for a dirt bike. Instead, he got a pony, and started riding horses instead dirt bikes.
For weekend fun, people would bring their horses to race on a patch of ground where corn, cotton and sorghum would grow.
“It was kind of the only thing we had to do,” Flores said.
At age 14, Flores raced for the first time in that cotton patch on a horse his father owned to settle a $50 bet with a friend over whose horse was the fastest.
“My dad, he pulled the seat belt out of an old junk car he had,” Flores said. “Cut it and put a few rings on it, sewed it, and put me on the horse, and that is what he tied me down on the horse with. It was my first jockey saddle.”
Flores won the race and his dad won the bet.
As he got older, Flores found his way to real racetracks in Texas to find work around the stables and eventually got a jockey’s license. He had been racing around the Texas circuit for a while when a fellow jockey persuaded him to spend the winter at the historic Hialeah Park Raceway in south Florida to hustle a few mounts.
In Florida, he met and started riding for longtime trainer Gary Walker, who convinced him to move to Oklahoma and start riding at Remington Park and the Tulsa-area tracks. In 2019, he was awarded the American Quarter Horse Association Champion Jockey honor.
“I dreamed of what I am doing today,” Flores said. “I never thought I would make it this far, but I eventually got here.”
Flores never lost his desire for motor racing, however. He bought a 1999 Chevy S-10 compact pickup primarily as a farm truck and noticed on the highway one day that he was unknowingly doing 80 mph. He began to wonder how fast that pickup could go and went to Abel Racing in Midwest City for advice.
“Built a truck to hot rod around in,” Flores said. “Nothing serious. Before I knew it, I had put a lot of money in it and I had a race car.”
A fellow hot rod enthusiast one day ridiculed his ride, saying it would never go nine seconds in a quarter mile. Flores decided to prove he was wrong and took it to the track.
“He was right,” Flores said. “It went 12.7 seconds to the quarter mile.”
Flores went back to Abel Racing and they rebuilt the motor and made the truck even faster. It took more than a year, but he proved the naysayer wrong.
“It went 9.2 seconds right off the trailer,” Flores said of his rebuilt Chevy. “Now I am ate up with (drag racing).”
Flores has since bought another 1999 S-10 Chevy pickup and turned it into his second dragster.
“I am just fascinated by small trucks with big motors,” he said. “I don’t know why.”
Last year, Flores reached the semifinals in his class at Thunder Valley’s Outlaw Armageddon, a race he wants to win as badly as the All-American Futurity.
Flores says he doesn’t love anything more than horse racing, but he admits drag racing comes close. He knows he might be an adrenaline junkie.
“I think I am,” he said. “I told my dad the other day I want to go skydiving.”
What: Quarter horse season
When: Friday through May 30
Key Stake Races
March 21, Oklahoma Futurity
April 18, Remington Park Futurity
May 30, $1 million Heritage Place Futurity and Debbie Schauf Memorial Championship
Other key dates
April 19, Extreme Racing
May 2, Kentucky Derby Simulcast