Gentleman jockey


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Ramon Dominguez is a solemn and slender man who made his living riding horses on the lesser circuits but never broke into the big-time until this year, when he suddenly found his talents displayed in glory on the ovals of the New York Racing Association.

On closing day of the Saratoga Season, 32-year-old Dominguez stoically booted home one final winner from 11 starters -- a horse in every race on the card -- to clinch the 2009 riding title over defender Alan Garcia (45-40). It was a perfectly-planned accomplishment executed at the hand of agent Steve Rushing, the groundwork for which was laid long before in the icy circuits of Aqueduct.

During the winter in New York city, the riders shivering through a bitter cold season at the gloomy inner city oval included a bunch of bug boys (and girls), the local regulars whose family or business obligations kept them close to home ... and Dominguez.

Ambitious jockeys had taken their tack to Gulfstream's sunny oval in south Florida, seeking to establish a name for themselves on a national level or striving to maintain their business at the top of the game. Dominguez, in his first year on the New York circuit, was sticking close to home.

It was a plan devised by Rushing to strengthen his rider's local business and change the perception of New York trainers who viewed the Delaware Park-based Dominguez as an out-of-town expert. The decision paid off in more ways than one -- through a record-setting season at Belmont where he broke Angel Cordero Jr.'s record of 92 winners from the 1982 spring meet (Dominguez he rode 98) -- to his first Saratoga title.

And now the magic ride continues as Dominguez heads back to Belmont with an expectation of big business there. Racing pundits are comparing him to Jerry Bailey, and they compared Bailey to Eddie Arcaro. That ought to tell you something.

This season? Call it the first furlong of a marathon that could continue for years. One thing's for sure, Dominguez -- as much a gentleman off the track as he is on -- is just hitting his best stride.

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse Magazine, The Albany Times Union and NTRA.com. She lives in Lexington, Ky.