Father knows best

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Ramon Dominguez hung up on his dad.

He tried to end the conversation gracefully. His biggest critic kept criticizing his ride aboard Deal Making in the Hall of Fame Stakes Aug. 4.

“Dad, I really don’t want to listen to what you have to say . . . ”

“Dad, I really don’t . . . ”

“Dad . . .”


Yeah, Dominguez was frustrated with his slow start to the meet and he was even more frustrated by his ride on Deal Making. Dominguez allowed Javier Castellano aboard eventual winner, Wesley, to get first run on the turn while getting hemmed behind a wall of horses. Deal Making never had a chance.

“My dad follows my career closely. He can be pretty critical at times, he’s pretty objective, but he doesn’t sugarcoat things,” Dominguez said. “When I finish the day’s races, I talk to him. We don’t always talk about horses but sometimes he’ll be like, ‘You know, I think you’re doing this, you’re doing that.’ Sometimes he can get to me. But what bothers me the most, a lot of times he’s right.”

Dominguez feels like Deal Making was the best horse in the turf stakes. He chose to wait while Castellano decided to move and then nothing happened. The wall of horses in front never opened. Dominguez knows his decisions cost him the race.

“He should have won and it didn’t happen. I could have handled it differently. I should have come out earlier, I should have anticipated,” Dominguez said. “My dad got to me. It was the most critical he’s ever been, of any ride I’ve ever given a horse. At the end, it’s my dad, he really worries about me and he wants the best for me, but I hung up on him. Yeah, actually, I hung up on him. I called him back and we talked about it.”

Deal Making was only part of the frustration as Dominguez endured a glacial start to the meet. He began 1-for-38. Yeah, that’s frustrating.

 “I don’t want to think that I was riding the best horse and getting them beat. I don’t want to say I was just riding bad horses, period, and I had nothing to do with it. But I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t worried, that I knew it would pick up,” Dominguez said. “You just try to continue to do the same things and not make any drastic changes. I really feel like I handled it pretty well, try and stay focused and do what I feel like has brought me here. I’m here because, hopefully, I’ve done things right in the past.”

Maybe it was the phone call or simply timing or luck, but Dominguez began to right the ship somewhere after that slow beginning. With 10 cards remaining, he has clawed to sixth in the standings. With 20 wins, he lies seven back of leader John Velazquez. No, the 31-year-old Venezuelan probably won’t be leading rider but he’s certainly a long way from that woeful start.

 “Things started falling into place, I didn’t feel like, ‘Wow, I’m really rolling now,’ but at one point I stopped and looked and said, ‘My God, I’ve really moved up in the standings.’ I try to take it day by day,” Dominguez said. “At the same time I was trying not to overreact and be like, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ If this happened seven years ago, I’d have been a nervous wreck. You’re always under so much pressure, you feel like you’re supposed to show that you can do it. But it’s not always up to you. I’m glad I didn’t overreact.”

Dominguez landed the riding title at the Aqueduct winter meet and rides the rest of the year at Delaware Park. Actually riding is an understatement. He dominates the jockey colony at Delaware. He’s been away for a month and he’s still 35 wins and nearly $1 million ahead of his closest pursuer. Dominguez has made the same move in the past, but moving tack from Delaware to Saratoga takes adjustment.

“I don’t ride the favorite nine out of 10 times here like I do at Delaware and because of that it makes it a little more challenging. You can’t afford to make mistakes like you can at Delaware,” Dominguez said. “Overall it makes you a better rider. Definitely, you learn new things every day here, you’re riding against the best riders in the world. Horse racing at a different level. I like it. I don’t like getting beat, especially when you’re used to winning two or three a day. Now, looking back, I feel like it’s really doing something for my career.”

Friday, Dominguez has a chance to land his first Grade I of the Saratoga season when he rides Unbridled Belle against Ginger Punch in the Personal Ensign.

“Ginger Punch is the best filly in the country,” Dominguez said. “We’ll see, I wouldn’t trade horses.”

Win or lose, Dominguez will call his dad.