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Dominguez finds happiness away from racing
Ramon Dominguez can hear horses in his sleep.
Don’t be alarmed. It has nothing to do with any lingering effects from the brain injury he sustained in a spill at Aqueduct in 2013 that ultimately ended his riding career.
Just outside the windows of the Floral Park, N.Y., home he shares with his wife, Sharon, and the couple’s two children, Alex, 11, and Matthew, 9, Dominguez can see the strides and hear the breath of Thoroughbreds as they go through their morning exercise over the Belmont Park training track. Further off in the distance is the mammoth Belmont grandstand, in front of which Dominguez recorded 553 of his 4,985 career victories.
The sights and sounds outside his window are a reminder of what was and, unfortunately, what will never be again.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know if this was going to work with me living this close to the track because it’s a constant reminder,” Dominguez said in a recent interview at his home. “But maybe that has been really a blessing to be that connected, to say, ‘Hey, dude, get over it; it is what it is.’ I can watch horses train. It does not bother me at all.”
The sights and sounds of Dominguez’s brilliant, but too brief, career will be replayed frequently over the next few months. On Monday, it was announced that Dominguez was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. On Aug. 12, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. – across the street from the historic track he once ruled – Dominguez will be part of an A-list induction class that includes trainer Steve Asmussen and the champion racemares Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.
“It was very overwhelming in a positive way; I cried,” Dominguez said after getting the phone call about his election. “It is a great thing, a big, big honor. I’m very happy and proud to be recognized in such a big way.”
Dominguez, who came to the U.S. in 1995 from his native Venezuela, rode for 17 years. From 2000-12, he averaged 386 wins annually. He moved from the Mid-Atlantic region to the New York Racing Association circuit full time in 2009 and was the leading rider for four straight years. He won three consecutive Eclipse Awards from 2010-12.
As 2013 began, he was 33 wins shy of 5,000 career victories, a milestone he would have accomplished by the age of 36.
On Jan. 18, 2013, Dominguez was aboard Convocation in the seventh race, a $30,000 claiming event, at Aqueduct. Approaching the five-sixteenths pole, his mount clipped heels with the horse in front of him, and Dominguez went down hard to the inner track.
He was diagnosed with a fractured skull. Ultimately, there was damage to the brain. Though he underwent extensive therapy, doctors told Dominguez they feared what could happen if he were to fall again. Dominguez announced his retirement on June 13, 2013.
Dominguez, 39, said he consulted with other doctors about the feasibility of a return. All had the same message.
“The degree of my injury was severe enough where all of the doctors that I have seen, they just don’t want me to be exposed to hitting my head again,” Dominguez said. “It’s not like breaking a bone, where you heal. It’s something that accumulates. At this point, they are very pleased with my recovery, but the truth is there is even right now concern about the future and being exposed to hitting my head.”
Dominguez said there was “a grieving period” after he realized that his career was complete. But he now seems at peace with the fact that he never again will be able to sit on a speeding Thoroughbred’s back, sneaking through a narrow opening and getting a victory in the final jump.
“Although I said what I did for a career as a jockey did not define me, at the same time, you can’t help to feel identified with that to the extent you feel like it’s a part of you,” Dominguez said. “That is a process. It can be painful at times, but by now, I am able to understand that it’s not only unavoidable, but it’s also necessary in order to move forward.”
Revered as much for his professionalism and politeness as he was for his talent, Dominguez was offered many opportunities to work in the racing industry. He turned down offers to work as a jockey agent, bloodstock agent, or syndicate representative and has found contentment outside of the racing arena.
Dominguez, who always fancied himself a bit of entrepreneur, is a distributor for LifeVantage, a network marketing company dealing with health and wellness products. Dominguez’s success as a distributor is somewhat predicated on the success of others, many of whom he recruits and helps get started in the business.
Dominguez said he has used traits similar to what made him successful as a rider – discipline, a strong worth ethic, and communication – in this business.
“I enjoy this as much as riding racehorses,” Dominguez said. “I love the fact that I’m empowering people to reach their full potential … helping people to have more flexibility when it comes to having more time to spend with their loved ones. I unfortunately missed out on a lot because of the demands of my career as a jockey. I’m helping people to [make] more money because money is very important, and most people these days are not making enough or in many cases want to have more security. So, those are three elements. In order to do this, we cannot avoid going through an amazing personal growth that is priceless.”
In this business, Ramon gets to work with his wife, Sharon. In the summer of 2012, months before Ramon’s accident, Sharon Dominguez was introduced to the products of LifeVantage. Initially reticent of the network-marketing strategy, she did more research and is now a big proponent of the business model.
“It had everything that would make sense for us,” Sharon Dominguez, 44, said. “All my business buttons lit up.”
In their business, Ramon and Sharon offer support for others entering the arena. Aside from the work they do with LifeVantage, the Dominguezes have started their own website, Ramonandsharon.com, on which they hope to share their life experiences.
“Ramon and I have been through a lot, especially over the last three years, and we want to be able to share our experiences in life with other people,” Sharon Dominguez said. “If we can help somebody navigate through that or get through that with hope and show there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that’s where the true blessing lies.”
Ramon credits Sharon with bringing him back to the racing community. For a long time after the accident, Ramon would not attend the races or even watch them on television. His visits to the backside at Belmont are more frequent, and Dominguez does a lot of work for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
“I am thankful that Sharon pulled me by the hair,” he said. “If it was up to me, it would have literally been years before I went to the track. I actually now enjoy going to the track, not that I go often. I’m planning to go to Saratoga quite a bit.”
Dominguez is planning to attend next Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. It will be his first time at Churchill Downs since 2012, when he rode Hansen to a ninth-place finish in the Derby.
Dominguez said he doesn’t have a specific rooting interest in the race, though he has become close with Irad Ortiz Jr., who will ride My Man Sam in the Derby.
“I will just be watching the race,” he said. “If it comes down to the end and one of the guys I rode with on a daily basis has a chance to win, then I’ll pull for them.”
Attending the world’s most famous horse race is another step in the moving-on process for Dominguez.
“I will always miss riding races,” Dominguez said. “I absolutely love the sport, but I can sincerely say that I’ve been able to turn the page, and it’s not something that I have to try to forget. No, no. Some of the greatest memories of my life are at the racetrack, and it’s something I will always cherish.”
Congratulations Ramon on the Hall of Fame! It was great meeting you last October in Phoenix. I can't thank you enough for helping me with my business. God Bless you and your family.
What a great article. Very inspiring. You and Sharon are great examples of how we should lead our lives and living proof of the success in doing so.
Great article for a great jockey! I feel blessed to be working in the same company as you. People helping people is what it's all about. God Bless Ramon!
Ramon, congratulations on the Hall of Fame...you certainly deserve this honor. You brought nothing but the best of qualities to the riding community with humility and greatness...
i remember that incident glad u are ok and u look great
Hey Ramone, I know you don't know me but I just read the article on you and your wife. I was greatly moved by what happened to you. I'm suffering from a traumatic brain injury I received at Fairhill when one of the horses I was training fell in the road me and I hit my head hard. Thankfully I had a good helmet on. That was in 2006 and I haven't worked since. Write me back cause I would love to talk to you. Mike Rea
Great article about one of the greatest jockeys ever and one of the greatest people ever
God bless you and family Ramon you have golden touch with your hands brother,you rod for me and win thank you
Truly one of the classiest dudes in all of sports. What a great ambassor for racing.
Classy man, hope he and his loved ones have a wonderful life. A good man....