Ramon Dominguez to enter Saratoga Walk of Fame on Friday

By Tom Pedulla/NYRA on 08/25/2017 9:56 AM

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It would be understandable if Ramon Dominguez became bitter after head injuries suffered in a Jan. 18, 2013 spill forced him to stop riding five months later. Another person might have been angry that an extraordinary career that brought three Eclipse Awards, 4,985 victories and nearly $200 million in earnings ended in an instant.

Dominguez is neither bitter nor angry. He feels overwhelming gratitude as he prepares to don a ceremonial red jacket as part of ceremonies today that will have him join other racing greats in the Saratoga Walk of Fame.


"To be recognized and surrounded by people who have accomplished so much in the sport is truly a great honor," he said.


The native of Caracas, Venezuela was an unshakable optimist when he began riding at age 16. No accident, no traumatic brain injury, will ever change that.


"It would have been sad to think about what I didn't win and what I didn't accomplish," he said, "because I have been so blessed to have a wonderful career."


Induction into the Saratoga Walk of Fame, opened in 2015 to honor those who made significant contributions to racing and the advancement of Saratoga Race Course, provides the latest testament to that career.


Jerry Bailey, Angel Cordero Jr. and John Velazquez are the only other former jockeys to receive red jackets. Dominguez, 40, also joined them in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame when he was inducted last year.


Velazquez said he is delighted to be among those extending a welcoming handshake to  the newest Walk of Fame member.


"I had the pleasure to ride with him and compete with him," he said. "I know the person he is and the kind of rider he is, so it is well deserved."


Dominguez was at the pinnacle of his career when he was forced to walk away. He was a dominant figure from 2010-12, rattling off three consecutive Eclipse Awards as the leading jockey in North America. That torrid stretch brought 25 of his 44 Grade 1 victories and 20 individual meet titles in New York, including two at Saratoga.


His performance in what proved to be his final summer at Saratoga, in 2012, was phenomenal. He closed with a record 68 victories. He remains the only jockey to register six-win days on two separate occasions.


"You enjoy winning a race anywhere, but Saratoga is extra special," he said. "The whole atmosphere at the track is so unique, the close interaction with the fans, kids coming to you for autographs after the race as you make your way from the grandstand to the jockey's room. From any angle, Saratoga is a beautiful place, and to be able to win races there on a consistent basis is just living your dream."


But six wins in one afternoon? And then to do it again? Even Dominguez can only shake his head in amazement.


"Things happened to click into place beautifully," he said. "You win and go on to the next race, and before you know it, you have four wins and then you have five. To win the sixth one is so surreal, it's hard to describe. It's beautiful, to say the least."


Dominguez knew entering each of those days that Steve Rushing, the agent he credits for much of his success, had compiled an unusually strong lineup of mounts. He had done his usual strong pre-race preparation and understood how each horse needed to be handled. And then everything unfolded exactly as planned.


"Things were just very clear," he said.


When Dominguez was riding high, when he had the necessary horsepower beneath him, he was nearly unstoppable.


"I believe we had not seen the best of him yet," Velazquez said. "The whole game misses a person like that and the kind of rider we lost. Fortunately, he is with his family and he can enjoy his family."


Rushing will always wonder what heights Dominguez might have reached if he had remained healthy. "I think he would have broken many, many records if he continued to ride," he said. "There is no doubt."


Dominguez and his wife, Sharon, have two sons, Matthew and Alex. He noted that he went through a grieving period when it became clear he had ridden his last race. There was a time when he could not bear to go to the track. Too painful.


Rushing could not find the right words to console him. In truth, there were no words to ease his anguish.


 "To see him in that position with that much disappointment, to see him not be able to continue to do what he loved to do, it's taking someone away at his prime," he said. "The agent part of it aside, to see a close friend go that, it's not easy."


At Sharon's urging, Dominguez eventually returned to the racetrack and again relishes the whirl of activity there. He is healthy. He is happy, knowing he lived his dream.


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