Day Is Ready to Ride Off Into the Sunset
Pat Day, whose patient, sit-still riding style resulted in 8,803 victories and purses totaling almost $300 million, is expected to announce his retirement today at a news conference at Churchill Downs.
Day and his longtime agent, Doc Danner, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, but Danner confirmed to industry publications that the 51-year-old rider had ridden his last race.
“The Lord assured him it was time to move on and pursue a different direction in his life,” Danner told Blood-Horse magazine.
Day underwent hip surgery in March, causing him to miss his first Kentucky Derby in 22 years, and has ridden sparingly since going through rehabilitation.
“He was not feeling the glory of winning like he used to,” Danner was quoted in the Daily Racing Form.
Day, elected into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1991, rode in 40,298 races and his horses earned a record $297,912,019. A deft saddlesmith who frequently coerced horses into responding with little use of his whip, he racked up nine Triple Crown wins and 12 victories in the Breeders’ Cup. His Breeders’ Cup mounts have earned a record $23 million.
“He’s a tremendous person and was a tremendous rider,” trainer Nick Zito said by phone from Saratoga. “In any sport, consistency is what you look for, and Pat was a gem of consistency. Of all the races he rode, I never saw him throw a horse off-stride, and that’s a great tribute for a horsebacker.”
Day won the 1996 Preakness with the Zito-trained Louis Quatorze. Day got his chance with the longshot colt after another trainer, Wayne Lukas, had replaced him with Jerry Bailey aboard Prince Of Thieves, whom Day had ridden to a third-place finish in the Derby two weeks earlier. Prince Of Thieves finished seventh in the Preakness as Lukas’ string of six Triple Crown victories in a row ended.
“I remember Wayne saying he was making a coaching change,” said Zito, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday. “I was pretty brash in those days, and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s making a coaching change -- in my favor.’ ”
Later, Day would rejoin Lukas for some of his biggest victories. They sprung upsets with Cat Thief in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and with Commendable in the 2000 Belmont Stakes. Day’s other Classic winners were with Wild Again in 1984, Unbridled in 1990 and Awesome Again in 1998. His only Derby win came with Lil E. Tee in 1992.
The Breeders’ Cup was new in 1984, and Day has said that the win at Hollywood Park astride the longshot Wild Again was what jump-started his career.
“That was the one that put me on the map,” Day said.
Not familiar with Wild Again, Day had been told by the colt’s trainer, Vincent Timphony, that the horse would shy if he felt the whip. In a furious finish with Slew o’ Gold and Gate Dancer, Day was tempted, but he never hit Wild Again and somehow kept him running straight in a tenuous position along the rail. A stewards’ review allowed the victory to stand.
Only three jockeys -- Laffit Pincay with 9,530 victories, Russell Baze with 9,037 and the late Bill Shoemaker with 8,833 -- have won more races than Day. Baze is still riding.
Day has led the country in purses twice and in victories six times. At certain tracks, it was usually folly to disregard horses he rode, no matter what their price. He won a record 2,481 races at Churchill Downs. At Oaklawn Park, in Hot Springs, Ark., he was the leading rider from 1983 to 1994. He reached the 8,000-win mark in 2001.
Away from horses, Day has been an industry leader. He twice has been vice president of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America, and there were indications Wednesday that he would continue to serve a role with that organization. Day’s term as president of the Jockeys’ Guild ended prematurely when he resigned over objections to the controversial ouster of John Giovanni, the group’s national manager.
Like Shoemaker, Day had an advantage over many jockeys in that he was a natural lightweight who didn’t have to diet to keep his weight down. Also, in a game in which riding fallen horses is a given, Day was seldom injured. Until this year, he had missed hardly any action after a broken collarbone sidelined him for seven weeks in 1979.
Day’s first winner, aboard a horse named Forblunger at Prescott Downs in Arizona in 1973, earned him $34. Growing up on a ranch in Colorado, he had forsaken plans to become a bullrider and got an introduction to thoroughbreds at a farm in Riverside.
In those days, Day had an admitted alcohol and drug problem. He fought with rival jockeys, was frequently suspended and bounced from track to track, but he said that in 1984, sitting in a motel room, he had a religious experience that sobered him up. That year -- the year of Wild Again -- he won 399 races, and the next year he won 429. The 8,000 mark was only a matter of time.
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Best of Day
The highlights of the career of jockey Pat Day, who is expected to announce his retirement today:
Triple Crown Wins: Lil E. Tee (1992 Kentucky Derby); Tank’s Prospect (1985 Preakness); Summer Squall ('90 Preakness); Tabasco Cat ('94 Preakness, Belmont); Timber Country ('95 Preakness); Louis Quatorze ('96 Preakness); Easy Goer ('89 Belmont); Commendable (2000 Belmont).
* Breeders’ Cup Victories: 12, including four Classics (Wild Again, 1984; Unbridled, ’90; Awesome Again, ’98; Cat Thief, ’99).
* Accomplishments: Won Eclipse award for best jockey in 1984, ’86, ’87, ’91 ... Led nation in victories in 1982-84 and ’90 ... Rode eight winners from nine mounts on Sept. 13, 1989, at Arlington Park
Source: Associated Press