02/01/2017 3:20PM

Birzer poised to hit 3,000-win mark

Coady Photography
Alex Birzer rides Chanel's Legacy to victory in the Dixie Belle on Jan. 21.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Jockey Alex Birzer had a clear vision of the career path he wanted to go down before he even hit his teenage years. The plan has worked to perfection. Birzer is now sitting at the threshold of 3,000 Thoroughbred wins, entering the Oaklawn race week on Thursday with 2,991.

Birzer, a 43-year-old native of Kansas, hails from a racing family. From an early age, he took his cue from his father, Gary Birzer, who rode for about five years before turning to training. Alex Birzer launched his riding career in 1992, with his first win coming at River Downs.

“I remember when 10 or 11, looking at my dad’s old win pictures,” Birzer said. “At school, some kids wanted to be firemen or policemen. I just wanted to be a jockey. That was my dream as a little kid. It’s been my dream job since I was little, and I’m blessed I can still do it.”

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Birzer has amassed mount earnings of more than $47 million. He’s collected 11 riding titles through the years, including last year’s Prairie Meadows meet (in a tie with Ramon Vazquez, who is the current leading rider at Oaklawn). The title at Prairie was the fifth at the Iowa track for Birzer, who also won four titles at the now-shuttered Woodlands in Kansas and one each at Columbus and Lincoln in Nebraska.

Birzer was tied for third in the standings at Oaklawn with eight wins through Wednesday. He rode Shotgun Kowboy to a neck win in a stakes-quality allowance here last Friday in the horse’s first start since August. Birzer also guided Chanel’s Legacy to a win in the $125,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-old fillies here Jan. 21.

“She just ran a powerful race,” said Birzer.

The next stop for Chanel’s Legacy likely will be the $125,000 Martha Washington on Feb. 11 at Oaklawn, said trainer Lynn Chleborad. She said Birzer would have the mount on the filly if she goes in the race, which is a local stepping-stone to the Grade 3, $400,000 Fantasy. Chleborad has long utilized Birzer, having followed the same circuit as the rider: Oaklawn, Prairie Meadows, and Remington Park.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Chleborad said. “He tries hard every time. He’s a good person, just as an individual.

“You win 3,000 races because you’re seasoned and experienced and have a good feeling of the horse. Those are the things I think Alex has.”

Chleborad also pointed to Birzer’s professionalism, noting that she has found him to be level-headed, a great communicator, and on the same page when discussing workouts and races.

“He rode The Rock Rolls when I got my 1,000th win, and I would just love it if he happened to be on one of my horses when he wins his 3,000th,” Chleborad said. “It would be so cool since we’ve had such a long horse-riding relationship.”

Birzer said the pending milestone has been a pleasant surprise in a sense.

“It’s kind of funny – I never thought about it,” he said. “When I was young, I just wanted to ride. Now, after years of hard work, you’re sneaking up on a good career.”

Birzer has won more than 100 stakes races. Among his top horses through the years were American Sugar, Answer to Jordan, Humble Smarty, Kate’s Main Man, and Patton’s Victory.

Despite the racing accomplishments, there’s a personal one much more important to Birzer.

“I’m blessed to still have my family,” he said. “The Thoroughbred industry is tough on a family. I am blessed to still be married to my wife. We’re working on 20 years this summer. We have three beautiful kids. I’m blessed to have them. You can have all the success in the world, but if you don’t have anybody to enjoy it with, it’s just meaningless.”

Birzer’s wife, Bonnie, is the daughter of trainer Dennis Good. The couple has one daughter, Jordan, and two sons, Brett and Colby.

Birzer could add to his win totals in Friday’s featured ninth race at Oaklawn. He has the mount on Chief of Staff in the optional $50,000 claiming route over 1 1/16 miles. Birzer will see stakes action Saturday at Oaklawn with Apprehender in the $125,000 King Cotton.

◗ Terry Thompson, a two-time title winner at Oaklawn, has his first mount of the meet in Friday’s fifth race aboard Checker Czech.