08/10/2016 10:56AM

Dominguez enters Hall of Fame as part of elite class

Barbara D. Livingston
Ramon Dominguez rode 4,985 winners in a 17-year career from 1996 to 2013.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – For the first time since his forced retirement in 2013, Ramon Dominguez has spent a large amount of time at the racetrack this summer at Saratoga.

His apprehension has been replaced by the realization that the track still has the comforts of home.

“Honestly, I didn’t know exactly how I would feel about coming this much,” Dominguez said in a recent interview. “But I’ve been able to appreciate and enjoy the sport from a totally different perspective where when I’m riding – which is something I will always love – it’s such a high demand, and I put so much pressure on myself because I need to perform, I need to win, I need to do the best I can, and that takes a little bit away of the fun of enjoying the whole sport.

“Now, there is no personal attachment as far as having to perform, so therefore I can come and appreciate races, looking at the beautiful horses in the paddock, even people watching, and just seeing all different characters that come to the track,” he added.

On Friday, many people will be watching Dominguez when he is inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Dominguez will be part of an elite class that includes Steve Asmussen, who ranks second all time among North American trainers in wins and fourth in purse money won; Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly; and Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year and three-time champion older female.

Tom Ochiltree, a horse who won 21 races, including the 1875 Preakness; and jockey Wayne D. Wright – both elected by the Historic Review Committee – as well Arthur B. Hancock Jr. and William Woodward also will be inducted, the latter two in the Pillars of the Turf category.

:: HALL OF FAME: Watch Friday's induction ceremony live on DRF.com

Dominguez rode 4,985 winners in a 17-year career from 1996 to 2013. He was a three-time Eclipse Award winner and had become the dominant rider on the New York Racing Association circuit, winning the most races annually at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga from 2009-12. He set records for wins at a Saratoga meet (68 in 2012) and a Belmont spring/summer meet (98 in 2009).

A fierce competitor on the track, Dominguez was a genteel, humble gentleman off it. His career was cut short due to head injuries suffered in a spill at Aqueduct in January 2013, and Dominguez, who can see the Belmont Park grandstand from his bedroom window, mostly stayed away from the track.

But this summer, he and his family have come to Saratoga for the meet. Dominguez is interacting with the trainers and owners for whom he rode and the jockeys he competed against, some of whom still seek his counsel.

“It has been great,” Dominguez said. “The people I have met at the racetrack are my second family, so coming to the jocks’ room and seeing the guys, it’s like I’m there [riding]; or in the mornings, seeing trainers and owners, I feel like I haven’t missed a beat.”

Dominguez, who is now a distributor for LifeVantage, a network marketing company dealing with health and wellness products, has been honored by many organizations this summer. He is an active member of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Asmussen, 50, enters the Hall of Fame with 7,379 wins and just shy of $245 million in purse money won. In Curlin (2007-08) and Rachel Alexandra (2009), Asmussen trained the Horse of the Year for three consecutive years.

In 2014, Asmussen was removed from consideration for the Hall of Fame after being accused of abuse by the animal-activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Asmussen was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. The New York State Gaming Commission fined Asmussen $10,000 for the use of a synthetic hormone but dismissed more serious allegations.

Asmussen helped guide Rachel Alexandra through a remarkable 2009 campaign. Wine magnate Jess Jackson purchased Rachel Alexandra a few days following her jaw-dropping Kentucky Oaks victory for trainer Hal Wiggins. Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness with Asmussen as trainer and would beat the boys in the Haskell at Monmouth Park and the Woodward at Saratoga. The latter race completed an 8-for-8 campaign that earned her Horse of the Year.

Zenyatta went for 5 for 5 that year, including a victory over males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but finished second to Rachel Alexandra in Horse of the Year voting. In 2010, Zenyatta suffered her first career loss in her 20th and final start to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but her previous five Grade 1 victories at four different tracks earned her the Horse of the Year title.

Usually open to the public, this year’s Hall of Fame ceremony was open only to museum members first and has been sold out.

The ceremony, which takes place at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion on East Avenue, will be streamed at DRF.com and on the museum’s website, www.racingmuseum.org, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.