Monday, January 30, 2012
Hail To the King of Chicago
Mark Guidry is about to become a Hall of Famer. It’s about damn time.
The man, one of only 22 jockeys to ride more than 5,000 winners, will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on June 23 and take his rightful place alongside the stars from professional and college football, baseball, basketball and all sorts of other sports who grace the facility. When the committee evaluated a record 142 nominees from 24 different sports and poured over a 25-page ballot, they surely came up with the right guy.
“Gid” is a talented, tough and terrific rider. Those 5,044 trips to the winner’s circle came from 31,321 mounts who brought home over $100 million in purses. Guidry’s other nickname is “The King of Chicago”, earned from 18 riding titles on the circuit: two at Arlington Park, seven at Hawthorne Park, and nine more at the old Sportsman’s Park. His most high profile win came in 2006 aboard Lemons Forever in the Kentucky Oaks, but he rode plenty of mighty fine horses for a lot of good horsemen for a very long time.
The money, fame, glory and all those ancillary perks and benefits followed. And so did trouble. Terrible trouble.
Most everybody who’s been around the racetrack a time or two knows that Guidry is a great guy and a gentleman. His peers voted him as the winner of the 2006 George Woolf Memorial Award, the highest honor they can bestow. What many people don’t know, or perhaps have forgotten, is that he once came razor-close to losing everything, including his cherished family.
There was a time when Mark was riding in Chicago and even though he could coax the most out of every horse, he couldn’t find the inner strength to stay away from some very bad people who got him into some very bad things.
I know this because with raw candor and brutal honesty Mark told me his story, first when I was writing for The Racing Times and then again when I was Arlington’s communications director. Mark allowed me to tell his story in the now-defunct national daily newspaper in 1991 and then again in a 1993 in-depth feature on him for “Arlington Weekend”, a half-hour magazine format TV show that used to run on Sunday mornings on the CBS affiliate in Chicago.
Suffice to say that Mark once had a drug problem and the word problem is one hell of an understatement. It was so bad that he ended up ruled off the racetrack, the place he loved most and knew best, and found himself working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, doing dirty, sweaty, miserable, incredibly hard labor for long hours while being feasted on by mosquitoes the size of Boeing 727s.
It was so bad that his suffering wife and three children and other close family members were tortured right along with him. It was so bad that he couldn’t stop until he hit absolute rock hard bottom, and then had to fall even farther.
But Mark got himself into treatment and finally got clean, which was a different kind of living hell to push through. He turned it all around and showed everyone, even his biggest detractors, just how tough and terrific he truly is. He earned back their respect, admiration and love. Then he kept proving he deserved it.
He also resurrected his career, clawed his way back to the top and rode successfully for about 20 more years. In 2007 he hung up his tack and the next year embarked upon a training career, and only last year, he decided to ride again. I am among the very many who are happy to see him back in the saddle.
Even though I’ve had access to our sport’s top riders for longer than I care to admit, there is only one whom I’ve ever asked to sign a win picture for me. You can guess who that is. That framed and signed photo of Mark- in the winner’s circle right where he belongs- was displayed prominently on my office wall at Arlington and Rockingham Park and now it’s in my home.
I’ve always considered Mark Guidry a Hall of Famer- both as a rider and as a man. Now it’s official.