Jockey Ramon Dominguez (center, aboard Alpha) is riding in the best form of his career.

Horses just run for Ramon Dominguez

Daily News Staff Writer

YOU CAN quantify it by numbers, but there really is no way to make a pronouncement that any one person is the best jockey in America. It is quite subjective.

Regardless of how the determination is made, there is no doubt Ramon Dominguez, 35, is in the conversation. Now closing on 5,000 winners, the native of Caracas, Venezuela, is riding in the best form of his life.

He was so good at Saratoga that he shattered the meet record with 68 winners. He twice won six races in a single day. They call this horse racing and not jockey racing for a reason, but there were times at Saratoga when Dominguez seemed to get horses over the finish line that really should not have been winning.

The jockey, who dominated the scene at Delaware Park before moving on to New York a few years ago, will be at Parx Racing on Saturday to ride favored Alpha in the Pennsylvania Derby.

Rich Glazier, the longtime TV host at Delaware Park, has seen some really good riders come through. He saw Chris McCarron in the 1970s when the then-apprentice was winning just about everything.

"The year he was here as [an apprentice in 1974] was the worst betting year I ever had in my life," Glazier said. "He would win with horses that had no business winning."

Dominguez, Glazier said, was "every bit as good" as McCarron.

"He would do the same thing, win with horses that had no business winning," Glazier said. "He always puts them in the right spot."

It's not an accident. Dominguez never leaves the jockeys' room without a plan. While other riders are playing ping-pong or sleeping, Dominguez is studying the past performances, trying to figure out how the next race might be run and what would be the most beneficial trip for his mount.

"We have a computer in the jockeys' room where with the push of a button you can see the past performances of the horses that you are going to ride," Dominguez said. "I want to have an idea what might happen. I cannot remember a single time I have gone out there not trying to handicap or foresee how the race might develop. I feel like I'm going out there naked if I don't prepare myself."

There were many who wondered how the King of Delaware Park would fare when he went to New York. Glazier was not among them.

"There was no question from anybody who was here day in and day out that Ramon could make it in the big time," Glazier said. "I think those guys in New York didn't think that."

Dominguez has won riding titles at 18 different New York meets between Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga. He won some very nice money in Delaware, but the money in New York is bigger and even nicer.

Dominguez' mounts have won $182 million. To figure out a jockey's income, the rule of thumb is to take 8 1/2 percent of his total. Using that rule, the jockey has banked nearly $16 million.

He has won the last two Eclipse Awards as America's leading rider. He is in the lead for a third.

The only thing Dominguez has not done is win a Triple Crown race. Again, that is why they call it horse racing. He simply has not had the right horses, but, now that he is based in New York and has access to the best horses, it seems only a matter of time.

"I'm pretty optimistic that it's going to happen, hopefully sooner than later, but it's kind of unfair for me to put all the focus on where my career has gone on those three races," Dominguez said. "Don't get me wrong. Those are the three biggest races. I want to win them. I don't want that to define my career because I've been so fortunate to have done as well as I've done, Triple Crown wins or no."

Dominguez also happens to be one of his sport's nicest people.

"The day he broke the record at Saratoga, they followed him with a camera, walking back to the jockeys' room," Glazier said. "He stopped to sign autographs. He took pictures with families. He just goes above and beyond the call of duty. It's exactly what racing needs. He's a great spokesman for the game. He's very intelligent. The other jockeys look up to him."

And he knows horses.

"Horses just run for him," Glazier said. "Ramon is one of those fortunate few. He has a sixth sense. He just knows when to go and he can communicate with the horse."

Steve Rushing has been Dominguez' agent since March 2000. He knows the arc of his career better than anyone and agreed that "he's riding better than ever."

They made the leap into New York together. Rushing had hopes, but "I don't think anyone could have expected this. I had complete confidence in him."

The rider had been a regular at Aqueduct during the winter and made regular trips to Saratoga. So it was not like he was a stranger.

"It was a very small transition," Dominguez said.

And the jockey just keeps getting better.

"Every year has been better than the year before, which is kind of hard to imagine because the previous year has been so good," Dominguez said.

The jockey is scheduled to ride seven horses at Parx on Saturday. In addition to Alpha, he will ride Dixie Strike in the Cotillion, Laurie's Rocket in the Gallant Bob and four undercard races. It is not often you can say you saw somebody who is the absolute best at what he does. If you watch Ramon Dominguez closely, you may be seeing exactly that.

 


Contact Dick Jerardi at jerardd@phillynews.com.

 

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