NEW ORLEANS (Sunday, January 29, 2012) – Jockey Ramsey Zimmerman knew that coming back to Fair Grounds this winter would not be easy.

“If it was up to me, I would have crawled back to some little track where nobody knew anything about me but my wife wouldn’t let me,” said Zimmerman Sunday morning at Fair Grounds, shortly after attending mass with Jenny and their 11-month old daughter Race Hannah. “She said I was too good a rider to do that. She believed in me, and after what I put her through last summer, I had to do whatever she wanted. She stuck by me and went through all this with me. I owe her everything for that.”

What Zimmerman was referring to, of course, was a very dark day last May when he was arrested in Des Moines, Iowa, and charged with four felonies, including possession and intent to deliver crack cocaine and heroin. Police had found the Chicagoland native in an unresponsive state while operating a motor vehicle.

“What happened was – I messed up big-time,” said Zimmerman. “After a year and a half of sobriety I went out on a binge. I let everybody down – my family and a lot of other people who believed in me.”

Exactly 110 days after being picked up by police, Zimmerman was released from the Polk County, Iowa, jail and went directly into rehab for another 30 days.

“It was the scariest ordeal I ever went through,” said Zimmerman Sunday of his summer and fall of incarceration. “It was brutal – an awful experience. I’d been in trouble with the law before, but never anything like that. Now, all I can do is put it behind me and move forward.”

Someone once said, it’s not how you fall, it’s what you do after you get up that matters most, and if that is so, Zimmerman seems well on his way to redemption. With limited opportunities, the talented reinsman entered Sunday’s race day in 12th position in the local rider standings with 14 winners from 177 mounts.

“I told him when he came to me and asked me to take his book that we were going to have an uphill battle at first,” said veteran Louisiana-based agent Rick Mocklin. “But racetrackers tend to be a very forgiving group of people, and if you mess up one time – a lot of them are willing to give you a second, or even a third chance if they see that you are trying to make things right again.

“Since he’s gotten back down here this season, Ramsey has proved that to a lot of people,” said Mocklin. “In that sense, he’s his own best agent. He sells himself and he’s proving to people that he’s dedicated to riding again and wanting to do the right thing. He’s been showing up every morning and showing everyone he’s willing to work hard for them.”

Some of Zimmerman’s better moments in the past came here in New Orleans five years ago when he rode Jerrold and Shirley Schwartz’s Cloudy’s Knight to victory in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap and then finished second by a half-length to Eclipse Award-winning turf horse Einstein in the Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap.

Later that season, Zimmerman rode Cloudy’s Knight to victory in the Grade I Canadian International at Woodbine for the biggest win of his career.

“One of the proudest moments of my life,” said Zimmerman of that Canadian International win. “I’m proudest of my two children (his son Ryder is 6), but ‘Cloudy’ is Number Three.

“Actually, coming back down here hasn’t been as bad as I thought it could be,” said Zimmerman. “A lot of people seem to have accepted me and have given me a chance to ride their horses. Mike Burgess started using me right away, and guys like Bob Young and Bernie Flint have also given me some nice horses to ride. Also, a lot of the littler guys have used me on their horses.

“Considering what happened to me, I’m doing quite well,” said Zimmerman, who once rode seven winners in a night card at Fairmount Park and finished second by a nose with the other two. “If I keep working hard like I’m doing right now, I think things are going to keep getting better for me. I really believe that.”

FAIR GROUNDS’ FIRST LADY OF FLOWERS BACK ON DUTY – Alice Stevenson, Fair Grounds’ unofficial longtime local botanist, recently returned to her duties taking care of the local flora following emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix more than a month ago.

“She’s recouping gradually,” said David Ball of Fair Grounds operations and valet services, who is Stephenson’s brother. “She’s on a bland diet now. She can’t eat New Orleans-style food anymore, and she’s lost a little weight, but she’s doing great. Also, I think she’s doing a lot better now that she’s back taking care of her plants. She couldn’t wait to get back and do that.”

LEADING TRAINER ASMUSSEN SCORES TRAINING TRIPLE – Fair Grounds’ defending trainer champion Steve Asmussen scored with two horses he owns to win Saturday’s Daily Double at the local oval and then added a third winner to his totals in the seventh race of the afternoon.

Also, jockeys Shaun Bridgmohan and Rosie Napravnik, as well as apprentice C. J. McMahon, were all credited with two wins apiece during Saturday’s 10-race program.