Heavy doses of sadness at his decision and gratitude for what he accomplished poured through the racing community Thursday morning as word trickled down that Ramon Dominguez, winner of the last three Eclipse Awards for outstanding jockey, announced he was retiring from riding due to injuries he sustained during a spill at Aqueduct in January.
One day before he would earn his third straight Eclipse Award, Dominguez suffered a fractured skull in the spill on January 18. In a statement released through New York Racing Association, the 36-year-old said that upon advice from his physicians “it has been determined that I will no longer be able to pursue my career as a jockey.”
“Riding thoroughbreds has always been my passion and my calling. When I was 13 and watched my first horse race in Venezuela, I knew that I would become a jockey, and my riding career has brought happiness and success beyond what I ever expected,” Dominguez said in the statement. “Thus, it is extremely difficult for me to announce that due to the severity of the injuries I sustained in an accident at Aqueduct Racetrack on January 18, 2013, my professional riding career has come to an end.”
Dominguez added in the statement he was “not yet ready to speak publicly” but thanked fans, friends and fellow horsemen for their support over the last several months.
Dominguez retires with 4,985 victories from 21,267 mounts and career earnings of $191,615,698. Known for his classy demeanor and conduct as much as he was for his aptitude in the saddle, Dominguez was honored with the 2012 George Woolf Award, which honors a rider each year whose career and personal character earns esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing.
“All of us at NYRA are saddened to learn that Ramon Dominguez has been forced to end his riding career,” NYRA Vice President and Director of Racing P.J. Campo said in a statement. “Ramon distinguished himself immediately upon moving his tack to New York in 2009. Already a wintertime regular at Aqueduct, Ramon made a seamless transition to riding full-time on the NYRA circuit. He won numerous meet riding titles and many of our top races, en route to becoming New York’s leading rider for each of the past four years.”
Added Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association “Ramon Dominguez leaves an indelible mark on Thoroughbred racing and his profession. Above all, he epitomizes sportsmanship and professionalism as demonstrated by the respect he earned from his fellow jockeys. He is destined for Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame.”
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Dominguez began riding full time at La Rinconada racetrack in his native country at age 18. He came to the United States in 1995 and rode his first winner in March of 1996 at Hialeah Park.
In 2001 and 2003, Dominguez led all jockeys in the United States in terms of wins and scored his first Grade I triumph aboard A Huevo in the 2003 De Francis Dash. One year later, he would celebrate his first Breeders’ Cup triumph when he guided Graham Motion-trainee Better Talk Now to an upset score in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Prior to being a dominating presence in New York, Dominguez earned the leading rider titles at Delaware Park from 2004-2007 as well as numerous riding crowns at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. Once he shifted his full-time tack t0 New York in 2008 – long regarded as one of the toughest jockey colonies in the nation – Dominguez would go on to notch 20 individual riding titles on the circuit including nine consecutive leading rider titles at the Inner Track Meet at Aqueduct.
“He always had his horse in the right position, he knew where he was in the race at all times and he just seemed to get the most out of (his mounts),” said Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans. “It’s a shame (the retirement) because he was right at the front of his career. His best days were still ahead of him.”
Dominguez guided Romans-trainee Little Mike to victory in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf, the same he he set the set a single-year record for earnings with $25,582,252. The previous year, Dominguez won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile aboard eventual champion Hansen and was also the regular rider of 2011 Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace.
“Racing has definitely lost one of the best that we’ve seen in recent years,” said Larry Jones, who trained Havre de Grace. “Not only is he a great jockey but just a great, great human being to be associated with. Our relationship started in Delaware and…then to have Havre de Grace for us, it was just an honor to get to work with him.
“It definitely has saddened my day.”
Dominguez was also the regular rider for three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti and counts 2006 Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat among his other top mounts.
“I hate it, but believe me it could be a lot worse for him,” Jones said. “At least he is walking and hopefully this is something he will still recover from. Maybe like Gary Stevens…seven years from now he decides ‘Hey I can try this again’. Those of us who are selfish and in the business, the greedy part of me hopes that will be the case. But hopefully if he can’t come back to riding, he will find something that is fulfilling for him.”