Aaron Gryder has ridden all over the globe, but like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he ultimately found there’s no place like home.
That’s why Gryder, who turns 49 on June 5, is plying his trade full time now at Santa Anita in Arcadia, less than 10 miles as the crow flies from West Covina, where he was born.
“This is home for me,” said Gryder, whose two wins Saturday and one yesterday enhanced his place among the top 10 in Santa Anita’s standings.
“Last year I rode for Glen Todd at Hastings (formerly Exhibition Park in Vancouver, B.C.) and he’s been great to me, but that meet ended in October.
“I did some TV work for the Breeders’ Cup after that and thought it was time to come back. I’m older now and wanted to focus on being in one place. It’s fine to jump around when you’re younger but I felt it was time to settle down.
“My son, Christian, 19, went off to the Marines, and I wanted to be here for his boot camp and graduation at Camp Pendleton, but now he’s at Quantico in Virginia. He’s waiting for deployment to guard embassies around the world or for duties at the White House.
“I came here to focus on people who win and people who were my clients in the past. Brian Koriner put me on a nice filly named Gypsy Blu at Del Mar (Nov. 11) the first time I rode back here, and she won and paid $61.
“I changed my approach when I came back. I didn’t push and I didn’t press. Instead of working as many horses as I could in the mornings and riding as many races as I can, I slowed down and focused on being productive. I ride fewer horses but win at a high rate.”
Gryder rode his first winner on Jan. 18, 1987, at Caliente in Tijuana, and made his Southern California debut March 18, 1987 at Santa Anita, three days after winning nine races over a weekend at Caliente.
His most lucrative victory came in the 2009 Dubai World Cup when he piloted Well Armed to a record 14-length score at 9-1 for trainer Eoin Harty in the race then worth $6 million.
“I feel great, I feel as healthy as ever, I’m happy, enjoying what I do, and love coming out every morning and working five or six horses,” Gryder said. “I’m having fun.”
Gryder acknowledges his agent, Patty Sterling, who also represents Tiago Pereira, is contributing mightily towards his success. “She’s doing a real good job,” he said.