Sunday, December 18, 2011
As Season Winds Down, Jockeys Taking Center Stage
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, December 18, 2011—As the season winds down with many of the country’s top horses freshening for their 2012 campaigns, it’s only appropriate that the men and women who ride them should take center stage. And that’s exactly what happened late last week.
On Thursday, the great Ramon Dominguez became the first jockey to ever ride seven consecutive winners at a New York track, winning his third straight after taking the fifth through eighth races the previous day.
In doing so, Dominguez eclipsed his own streak of six consecutive victories, a record he shared with six other jockeys until this week. Of those half dozen, however, only Jorge Velazquez won all six in a single afternoon 20 years ago.
Dominguez was not the only rider to rise to occasions this week, not with Javier Castellano and Shaun Bridgmohan each riding five winners at Gulfstream Park and the Fair Grounds, respectively, on Saturday.
Wednesday was the fourth time this year Dominguez rode four winners on a single card. He’s also had two five-winner days and a six-win afternoon, the first two win that many races since the aforementioned Bridgmohan did so in 1998.
Dominguez has already clinched his third straight NYRA riding title and is sure to be an Eclipse Award finalist, hoping to earn that honor for the second straight year.
While such a trait is not desirable in people, Dominguez’s skill on horseback cab best be described as passive-aggressive or, perhaps, aggressive-passive.
Sharp and clean away from the gate, Dominguez then has the talent of putting his mounts to sleep, getting them to save energy while maintaining position.
He also has a penchant to save ground whenever possible. The tack sometimes draws criticism from his detractors because when he’s trapped with run, it’s not pretty. But, truly, more often than not it’s the difference between victory and defeat.
And after putting his mount in stretch gear, Dominguez is seldom caught from behind. His patience paid off Sunday when he made the last run with Summer Front to win Gulfstream’s Dania Beach, keeping Christophe Clement’s promising colt undefeated in three career starts.
Like other great riders, Dominguez seldom goes into protracted slumps. That’s the difference between racing’s stars and top players in other sports.
A hot rider is akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy; winning begets winning. Trainers beat a path to your agent’s door giving you live horses to ride. It’s happening with Castellano in Florida as Johnny Velazquez took his family on holiday.
In New Orleans, Rosie Napravnik is efforting to defend her riding title at the Fair Grounds but Bridgmohan, the first jockey to enjoy a five-win day this season, is looking to recapture the title he won the previous year.
Both figure to get a battle for live mounts with apprentice sensation C. J. McMahon, who combines a Quarter-Horse family background with the kind of patience that’s extremely rare in a teenager.
One never knows how a career will turn out, but this young man appears to have the one quality that separates the good and great ones from the journeymen: Horses run for him. Just like they do for Dominguez, obviously.