Track Stars

- -

The Ortiz brothers (1 and 1A) are 8-5. Mike Luzzi and John Velazquez are 15-1. Manuel Franco is 2-1. Leading jockey Javier Castellano is 6-1. 

And the real winner will be the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, especially if you help out. 

Saratoga’s jockeys will take to the dirt track for a special race Saturday going 110 yards (without horses). Post time is 3:20 p.m. and you make a $5 donation/wager to help a very worth cause as part of the PDJF Day Across America at Saratoga and other racetracks.

Founded in 2006, the PDJF has raised more than $5 million to assist 60 former jockeys whose lives were changed by on-track injuries including paralysis and brain injury. You can help by making a donation at the track or by texting JOCKEY to 50555, which will send a $10 donation to the PDJF.

 Retired jockey Ramon Dominguez, on the backside Friday morning, knows full well the impact of a racing-related injury. His career ended because of a head injury suffered when a horse fell at Aqueduct last winter. He hasn’t ridden a race since, but knows how lucky he really was. He doesn’t need PDJF assistance, but plenty of jockeys do and will.

“It’s like having insurance,” he said. “It’s something that you feel good about having but you hope you never get to use it. It is very important for the jockeys. It is close to our hearts, obviously, and any rider will do anything to contribute to that. Because the truth is, for some of these recipients, that’s all they get.”

The PDJF helps with medical and living expenses for jockeys injured while doing their jobs. The organization operates independently, meaning it’s not part of The Jockeys’ Guild or any other racing organization. Instead, the PDJF relies on jockeys and generous donors to fund its work and connect with medical breakthroughs like The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Former jockey Michael Straight, paralyzed in a riding accident in 2009, has been participating in Miami Project programs and recently took 126 steps with the aid of a bionic exoskeleton.

That’s the kind of progress the PDJF likes to see, and why events such as today’s and others – including Saratoga Jockey Karaoke Aug. 11 – are so important.

“There is always room to do more, to raise more money,” said Dominguez. “We are always being proactive to raise awareness and raise money for these individuals. Money comes from donations from fans, people, owners, other jockeys, anybody really.”

Since his retirement, Dominguez and wife Sharon have worked to assist the PDJF. The efforts, they say, are well worth it.

“I am as guilty as most people; it was there and I didn’t know how it got funded and I didn’t know how it came into existence,” he said of his riding days. “The last two years I have been more aware of what it is and what it stands for. It is something that is definitely needed.”

Now back to the race. 

It’s restricted to jockeys “which have never won a foot race in Saratoga.” The last came in 1995 and was won by Filiberto Leon in a reported 13.40 seconds. PDJF board member John Velazquez finished second that day and returns off the (long) layoff to give it a go once more. He’s 15-1 this time around, with this from Migliore: “was beaten a nose in this event 20 years ago. Has seen better days.”

At first, Dominguez declined to pick a winner, but when pressed sided with a value play in Joel Rosario. He’s 9-2 on Richard Migliore’s morning line with the comment “Dominican import is doing well.” 

Rosario will have to be quick to outrun the favorites – younger jockeys Jose and Irad Ortiz and Manuel Franco. Migliore thinks Irad’s early speed could set up the race for Jose’s late run. Franco has been working “in spectacular fashion.”

Dominguez isn’t so sure, and went with Rosario in a mild upset. “I will go with Joel. He is tough, but they say Franco is a good athlete, that he can do anything.”

 

So can you.