When I played football in high school, I remember hearing the words of our coach, ” That’s it fella’s, hit the showers.” Those words were only shouted when things were good, and we had turned in a super effort. Athletes welcome these words on a steamy summer day. Then there are times when “hitting the showers” meant that day was over, and it was time to move on……Today, I felt like I heard a voice from long ago, but this time it didn’t have that positive ring.
Today we received news that one of racing’s brightest stars had to call it quits. When I read the Daily Racing Form, a lump came to my throat when I read the words, “My professional riding career has come to an end.” Ramon Dominguez’s statement read. “While I hoped and even expected to be able to return to the saddle, as a result of my injuries and upon the advice of my treating physicians, it has been determined that I will no longer be able to pursue my career as a jockey.”
I can still see him in the saddle. “Stock-still” as the old timers would call it, and others would say you could have “set your coffee cup on his back.” All of these racetrack words simply implied that he rode with balance and grace. Jockeys are pound-for-pound the best athletes in the world. They have to maintain a steady weight, have the strength of a football player, and the hands of a concert pianist. You just don’t find these traits in many athletes, but Ramon Dominguez had them all.
He would sit tall in the irons, and I would get cold chills down my arm when I would see his long legs in the dash board. This meant he had a ton of horse, and was waiting for his moment to move. His ability to wait for a hole was legendary, and he gave me a million grey hairs holding my breath as he timed it just right. Some say he was one of the best closing riders with his incredible strength, but I say that he was double-dangerous anytime he had a mount. Just ask Dale Romans when he put the field to sleep in the Arlington Million aboard Little Mike. Yeah, it is fair to say that I am a big fan….
One of my favorite times working in racing was when he agreed to be a guest on the Winning Ponies Internet Show. I always enjoyed speaking to the guests, but he was one that stuck out in my heart. When I called, he was glad to join me. I didn’t want to sound like a crazed fan, but I counted the minutes until we had our Thursday night interview. As good as a rider that he was, he was even a better ambassador for the game. I won’t be forgetting that anytime soon….
So, thank you Mr. Dominguez… It was a honor watching you ply your trade. You gave the game your best, and your indelible mark will be on Thoroughbred racing forever. I will sure miss seeing you find that hole along the rail, or putting the field to sleep on the front end. For the many awards, photos, and purses won. You leave the sport a better place. As you leave at the top of your game, you can rest assured that you have the respect and admiration of fans and fellow riders alike.