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Jockey David and Pietro Moran set to face one another this year at Woodbine

TORONTO — It's the only must-win race of David Moran's 2024 season. The veteran Woodbine rider will race this year against his son, Pietro, an 18-year-old apprentice jockey.
Jockey David Moran (left) sits with his son, apprentice jockey Pietro Moran, at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — It's the only must-win race of David Moran's 2024 season.

The veteran Woodbine rider will race this year against his son, Pietro, an 18-year-old apprentice jockey. That's expected to happen repeatedly this season but for the elder Moran, the first meeting will be the most crucial.

"I've got to try to get bragging rights beating him first time down the lane," David Moran said. "After that, he can have it.

"We don't let each other win, even if it's playing ball at home in the driveway. Someone's got to lose."

Woodbine's 2024 meet opens Saturday but exactly when the Moran family showdown will happen wasn't immediately known.

Pietro Moran credits his father, a multiple-graded stakes winner, with being a terrific mentor. But he's sure his dad still has some tricks up his sleeve.

"He's definitely hiding something to try and get an edge but I'll find a way around it," he said. "It's definitely something you don't see every day.

"I can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun."

This will be David Moran's 14th season at Woodbine and 25th overall. The 41-year-old Templemore, Ireland native has 558 career wins (40 stakes) but rode just 140 times in 2023 after breaking both bones in his left ankle the result of a training accident last August.

"It's a dangerous game," he said. "An ambulance drives behind us every day in a race for a good reason.

"It was a long recovery but I feel great. I think I'm the fittest I've ever been and now I have young competition to step up to. I can't wait for racing to start."

Injuries happen but they're not the only challenges jockeys face. There's also maintaining weight — a constant struggle for some — and racing multiple times daily.

"Some people see someone on a horse and think it's easy but you've got to be very fit," David Moran said. 

"It's hard on the body, it's very demanding. But athletes put themselves through a lot because they love it, that's why they do it."

Facts not lost upon Pietro, who last season had four wins (three seconds, two thirds) in 20 starts.

"(The risk of injury) is very high," he said. "But this is something I've always loved and wanted to do since I was young. 

"I've always admired my dad and just loved the horses and thrill of the game."

Horse-racing is definitely the family business. Moran's wife, Maria, is a former jockey while another son, William, is an exercise rider at Woodbine while attending York University.

Pietro Moran also studies kinesiology at the University of Guelph-Humber, near Woodbine. Juggling both can be difficult.

"Right now it's not too bad," he said. "I've had plenty of help within the school and here at the track to balance them both."

While he has learned plenty just watching his father ride, experience has also taught the teen that no two horses are alike.

"There's always something new to learn in every race, with every horse," he said. "I've been able to watch my dad and go over all of the races he's been in and see what he's done.

"Kind of like being the jockey without actually riding the horse … and just learn from there."

David Moran appreciates his son's dedication and passion for racing but also his willingness to learn and put in the work.

"I see plenty of dedication and that's outstanding the way he trains," he said. "He has done all of the grunt work, he hasn't expected anything to be handed to him and I like that.

"It's the good, old-school way of serving your apprenticeship, doing it the right way and earning it. He's establishing the groundwork for sure."

And understanding, like most pro sports, racing has a business side to it.

"Being a jockey is a game, you get hired and fired a lot so you must have a level head and be able to take the good with the bad days," David Moran said. "It all comes back to respecting the owners and trainers, the people who work with the horses and the horses because at the end of the day you're only as good as your last winner."

Predictably, Pietro dreams of riding in big races like the $1-million King's Plate but also understands getting there is a process.

"It's the big races that attract me and you want to ride the best horses in those races because those are the best experiences," he said. "But you've got to work your way there so I'm going to be patient.

"But definitely, if the opportunity comes around I'll be very grateful and hopefully make the best of it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: CORRECTS para 9 showing Moran broke both bones in his left ankle.