Still the Same: Dominguez from 1999

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He won six races Sunday. He was asked to raise six fingers in the air, he did it reluctantly. He posed with kids. Signed autographs. Answered every question. Went to dinner with his agent Steve Rushing and never mentioned a ride, a race, the feat. Drove his Honda Civic to the track in the morning.

Another day. Another six wins. Simply, Ramon Dominguez.

Sure, I’m impressed with the wins, the rides, the achievements. I’m more impressed that he hasn’t changed.

I met Ramon Dominguez at Saratoga in 1999, I was writing a daily journal (they weren’t called blogs back then) on the Internet, that would meld into the book, Saratoga Days. Dominguez won a stakes late in the meet.

Here’s the excerpt from Saratoga Days – 13 years later, thousands of winners, Eclipse Awards and nothing has changed.

Welcome to America – Thursday, September 2

The dream continues. Phi Beta Doc and Ramon Dominguez. They won the Saranac on Wednesday.

Life is about dreams. Horse racing is the sport of dreams. Saratoga, that’s life and horse racing at their best. Saratoga – Dreamland.

I caught Ramon Dominguez on his way to the jocks’ room after his first Saratoga stakes victory. I love asking a guy like that, a 22-year-old jockey at his finest hour, if I can talk for a minute. Here’s our conversation.

What’s it like?

“It’s exciting to win a stake anywhere but even more here because you’re competing with the best of the best.”

It looked like your horse lugged in last time (he finished second in the National Museum of Racing Stakes on August 9 at Saratoga).

“I was going to win the race last time if my horse ran straight. This one releases a little pressure, because you feel like you should win because you’re on the best horse in the race. That’s what makes the pressure, you know if things don’t work out for the best that you’ll be taken off.”

That was going through your mind before this race?

“No, it wasn’t, because I am very confident and these people have been supporting me real good. You just know it’s there. You know?”

Yeah, I’m a steeplechase jockey.

“I know, I’ve seen you at Delaware. So you know.”


Where are you from originally?

“Venezuela. Do you mind if I watch the replay?”

So we scooted over to the TV outside the jocks’ room and watched Ramon Dominguez’s dream come true. This time, there was no lugging, just the perfect trip.

We missed the first half but caught the good half, when Phi Beta Doc turned for home with a trucklike hole to go through.

“I’m passing horses, but I still want to take hold of my horse here. I wait and see what John Velazquez is going to do, he’s on my outside, and what Pat Day is going to to do. Stay on the inside and there was a shot for me to go in between the horses. It opened up beautifully. You have to know that’s going to happen. Sometimes it doesn’t but . . .”

He smiled, sweat still streaming from under his helmet, and watched himself win his first Saratoga stakes. Now back to the interview.

How long have you been in the United States?

“Three years. I rode one year (in Venezuela) with my bug.”

DId you ever hear about Saratoga in Venezuela?

“Not really, didn’t hear of any track in this country. But as soon as I got to the United States, I was in Miami, I already knew what Saratoga was. It’s very exciting to win here. Like a dream, you know.”

What would they be saying in Venezuela right now?

“Oh wow. It’s crazy because you cannot break in there. My odds were pretty high there in the beginning. I wasn’t supposed to be such a nice rider there. Not too many people had confidence in me or the promotion that I came out of. A lot of other riders were doing a lot better than me. With time I got more experience and getting on better horses, things are working out for me. I’m sure they would be surprised and happy for me.”

Do you have family down there?

“Yeah, all my family is there.”

When will you call them?

“Tonight.” With the greatest smile you could ever see. Nothing like making family proud.

What are you going to tell them?

“Oh, they’ll know. They have a computer, with the Internet.”

Hi, Dominguez family, your boy just made a dream come true. You should be so proud.