- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - As Noberto Arroyo Jr. started to walk away, he briefly turned to watch his family leave following their bi-weekly visit.

Arroyo, once a million-dollar jockey then in the middle of a 2 ½-year jail sentence for cocaine possession, was on the way back to his cell. His partner of nine years, Brenda, and their four children were headed to the shelter they lived in for four months after losing their home because of Arroyo’s troubles.

It’s a moment seared into Arroyo’s memory.

“I screwed up and lost everything,” he said. “I lost everything.”

Arroyo has come a long way since that day in 2010, the day he credits for turning his life around. The jockey, who has morphed from promising up-and-comer to rider on the rebound, appears by all accounts to have learned how to walk the straight and narrow.

It’s been a long time coming for the Puerto Rico native who moved to Boston as a pre-teen before settling down in New York and later beginning his riding career in the state - a career that’s seen his mounts earn more than $41 million.

The 35-year-old, who was released from a New York prison in 2011 after serving 14 months of his sentence, is among the leading riders so far this year at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park. With 28 wins already, Arroyo has ridden his way to nearly $1 million in winnings.

He’s driven to make amends for his past - both to himself and those he loves.

“I know how hungry I am, what I put my family through, the mistakes I made,” Arroyo said. “I know I’m going to be as dedicated as ever.”

Arroyo’s early career was filled with equal parts success on the track and incidents of violent behavior away from it - eventually leading to a 39-day jail sentence for second-degree assault in 2003.

Arroyo said he saw a series of horrors as a child in Puerto Rico, including murders and drug use that “was a normal part of life.” Arroyo credited his strict parents for keeping him out of trouble and his career flourished at Aqueduct - where he was the leading rider in New York in 2000 with 188 wins.

That only lasted for so long.

He was arrested in late 2009 following a traffic stop near New York’s Saratoga Race Course, where Arroyo had been riding during its six-week season.

Police said they found about 12 grams of cocaine stuffed in a sock, and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board suspended Arroyo’s license after the arrest - with him eventually pleading guilty to a drug-possession charge.

These days, Arroyo readily acknowledges past faults and says getting caught was the best thing that ever happened to him. It wasn’t the alcohol or cocaine, he said, that was his addiction as much as it was the women.

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