Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dominguez Speaks Softly but Carries a Big Stick

MIAMI, November 13, 2012—With over $23.7 million in earnings, jockey Ramon Dominguez eclipsed the single-season earnings record set by Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey in 2003.

For those inside the game, it is at once no surprise and totally appropriate that he set the record while finishing second aboard a selling plater last Friday at the Big A.

According to Daily Racing Form statistics, the placing vaulted Dominguez over Bailey by approximately $3,500. By the weekend that margin was approaching a half-million.

When Mike Smith surpassed Bailey as the winningest rider in Breeders’ Cup history a fortnight ago, much was made of the fact that the number of Breeders’ Cup events has more than doubled since Bailey set his mark in a seven-race event.

Similarly, Dominguez has had many more opportunities to set the earnings record, riding in 500 more races, and counting, when compared to the standard Bailey set nearly a decade ago. And note it’s not quite mid-November.

The circumstances surrounding the accomplishments of the two all-time greats are quite different. At that time, Bailey, like Craig Perret a decade earlier, was “riding by appointment,” choosing mounts judiciously from a few of the top outfits in the country.

It is to Bailey’s credit that he was peerless among the “money riders” of his day, much more in demand than any of his peers when rich, prestigious races were on the line.

In that context, Dominguez must battls daily on the New York circuit with Johnny Velazquez and Javier Castellano, who not only are great riders but have huge, powerful outfits behind them.

Bailey was most closely associated with Bill Mott and MacKenzie Miller, but neither of those Hall of Famers were as prolific in number of entrants as are Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, among others, today.

Every era has its idiosyncrasies, of course, such as today’s inflated purses, especially in New York; it’s no coincidence that Castellano and Velazquez complete America’s Big Three earners. Even Dominguez admits it’s unfair to compare eras.

New York’s Big Three can ride for anyone, of course, but Dominguez actually does ride for everyone. He even rode for, well, me.

Late last year I had a cup of coffee as a Thoroughbred owner. It helped that my trainer had a great working relationship with Dominguez and his agent, Steve Rushing, so he often was given a leg up on our claiming filly, Dubai’s Connection.

One Sunday at Belmont Park last fall, the filly and I both missed the break; I never saw her stumble to her nose at the start until I saw the replay. I spoke with Ramon after the race.

He explained what happened, said that the filly was a real sweetheart, tried very hard and that she might have won had she broken cleanly.

“I hope you will ride her back for us some time,” I said as Dominguez started back to the jock’s room. He turned around and as he walked, smiled and said, “of course, any time…”

It was a humbling experience.

And that is the one word description that best defines one of the sport’s truly all-time greats: Humble.

It’s not the years he spent in Maryland with New York beckoning because he didn’t want to uproot his family, or the fact that until last year, anyway, as far as I know, he drove a Honda. It’s the fact that he gives everyone a chance.

Business aside, the impression Dominguez leaves is that he wants to be, and is, extremely accommodating. And there’s never been a hint of scandal, or acrimony, or any negativity for that matter.

While the numerous opportunities afforded Dominguez have given him a chance to attain “one of those personal accomplishments you dream about,” there also is greatness within those numbers.

According to statistics listed on the Equibase website today, Dominguez has ridden in 1,299 races this year and has finished in-the-money with 733 mounts, or 56% of the time, a figure that leads the nation among the sport’s highest earners.

His 306 victories, a strike rate of 24%, is also the game’s best, all while on his way to leading the nation in earnings for a third straight year.

“Riding a lot is something you get used to,” Dominguez told DRF’s Matt Hegarty. With the exception of a nine-day Christmas break, and the weeks he was sidelined by an injury, Dominguez will ride in New York until year’s end.

And there’s that other thing else that Dominguez has gotten used to; winning, making excellent use of his intelligence, athleticism, daring, superb timing and strength.

Who knows? If he keeps this up, there might even be an Acura in his future.

Written by John Pricci

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