He grabs a Red Bull from the fridge – a little liquid energy for the drive, the second half of a long day – but before he heads out, he opens a door. He walks over to a work bench. This is where he builds his drones, a hobby he tinkers with when time permits.
But he doesn't linger. It is time to go. He has a 30-minute drive back to work, so he needs to get going. As he steps out his front door, he is still smiling.
He has plenty to be happy about these days. He is a father, a husband and a jockey building a winning reputation after recently capturing win No. 1,000. He bought his family a house and drives a comfortable car.
Each milestone has been something he has worked for since he left Puerto Rico for Florida five years ago, a journey that began with a simple proclamation he made as a teenager: “I want to be a jockey.”
He missed his life in Puerto Rico, but he didn’t quit.
“I stayed focused and I got over it,” he said. “There are a lot of people who would just give up. I stayed here and kept working. I got past it.”
Every now and then, he thinks back to those early days. He has even driven Ashley to a few of the places he lived. Those memories continue to push him forward.
“The good things we have now, we have to appreciate them,” he said. “It’s amazing. I can’t even explain it, really. It’s great. That’s why I keep working hard.”
Zayas listens as Figueroa recaps the race. After the pleasant memory, it is time for Zayas to focus. The first race of the day is closing in fast. Zayas sits down with the program to go over the races. He is often riding horses for the first time, so he relies on all the information he can acquire, since he only has minutes to get acquainted before the start of each race.
“I get to know the horse as soon as I get on them,” he said. “You’ve got to read the program, see how they run. Before the race, the horses show you a lot.”
It's on you to 'do the job'
This particular afternoon is a struggle for Zayas. He doesn’t win any races. But these days are becoming fewer and farther between as he grows as a jockey.
Looking back on his progression, Zayas said his career really took off when he met his agent Tito Fuentes.
When they started working together, Fuentes had a simple message for Zayas.
“You’re going to be on the right horses,” Fuentes said. “It’s on your hands to do the job.”
So far, so good. With Fuentes’ help, Zayas’ career is taking off.
“He’s done an excellent job,” Zayas said. “We have a very good connection. We’re like family. I give a lot of credit to him.”
So, now that his career is hitting its stride, what’s next?
He isn’t in a hurry at this point. He is enjoying the journey, building his business.
“I’m not really rushing things,” he said. “I’m taking it slow. I’m pretty comfortable here. I’m trying to stay here as much as I can.”