07/28/2009 12:00AM

Dominguez Spa-bound after record meet

Barbara D. Livingston
Ramon Dominguez rode 98 winners at the spring-summer Belmont meet, breaking Angel Cordero Jr.'s record of 92 that dated to 1982.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It's one thing to dominate the jockey standings at Aqueduct in the winter, when many of New York's premier riders migrate south to Gulfstream Park. It's another to dominate the jockey standings at Belmont Park, when those same riders return, vying for the same choice mounts.

In his first full season riding at Belmont, however, Ramon Dominguez did indeed dominate his peers, registering a record 98 victories during the 64-day meet - 27 more than runner-up Rajiv Maragh. He eclipsed the previous mark of 92 wins set by Angel Cordero Jr. in 1982. During the winter, Dominguez set a record for wins at Aqueduct's inner-track meet with 124.

Now, Dominguez arrives at Saratoga - where he finished fifth in the standings last year with 27 wins - the favorite to win the riding title in what is arguably the toughest riding colony in the country. In addition to the New York regulars that include Maragh, John Velazquez, Edgar Prado and Eibar Coa, Kentucky-based jockeys Robby Albarado, Calvin Borel, and Julien Leparoux are in the room as well.

"Definitely, that's in the back of my mind," Dominguez said about being leading rider at Saratoga, which opens Wednesday. "I'm happy with the way things are going and I feel like my agent" - Steve Rushing - "and I will have business going up there. But at the same time it's not something that I take for granted. The competition and how challenging it is, it's not like I'm going there thinking I am going to be leading rider. I'm going to try my best, and if it doesn't happen and I have what I consider a successful meet, I will be happy with that."

That is basically the same mindset the 32-year-old Venezuela native had entering the Belmont meet, his first after nearly a decade at Delaware Park. Coming off his record-setting inner-track meet and a very successful spring meet over Aqueduct's main track - he beat Maragh 29-22 - Dominguez thought he would be competitive at Belmont. He never thought he would be setting any records. Dominguez didn't even make it to the top of the leader board until May 25, the 21st day of the meet.

"It's one of those things where going into the meet I felt good," he said. "I was coming off a good Aqueduct, and people for the first time knew that I was committed to stay here. That's always helpful that if somebody wants you to stick with their horses to know that I'll be here year round. Having said that, this meet has definitely exceeded my expectations."

Dominguez rode winners for 34 trainers, including Barclay Tagg (11 for 33), Tony Dutrow (10 for 23), Christophe Clement (8 for 26), and Richard Dutrow (7 for 11). He won 14 stakes, including three Grade 1's and three Grade 2's.

"It's awesome when you have a great outfit behind you and supports you and you ride first call, but I think being able to ride for pretty much everybody is even greater," Dominguez said.

While Dominguez does not display a classic look on a horse, and his windup motion when he goes to the whip is a bit unorthodox, he has impressed horsemen with his work ethic, preparation, overall skill, and communicative ability.

"It's refreshing to see somebody who has opened the paper and knows about the race," Clement said. "It's refreshing to use somebody who understands dirt to turf to sprint to mile-and-a-half races. Patience. His main quality is patience. I'm delighted he made the move to New York. . . . He rides everything and he rides everything well."

Richard Dutrow said: "It used to be different. When everybody returned from Florida they used to go to their go-to guys. Dominguez is a go-to guy. He's got great hands. There's not much you can fault with him."

After his record-setting performance at Belmont, Dominguez has 238 victories on the New York Racing Association circuit this year. Barring injury, he will join Steve Cauthen, Angel Cordero, Mike Smith, and Eibar Coa as the only riders to win 300 races in a calendar year on this circuit. He has an outside shot of breaking Cauthen's mark of 433 wins set in 1977.

In 2001 and 2003 Dominguez led the nation in races won. This year he has a chance to lead the nation in purse money won. He is atop that category with $9,329,589 through Sunday.

If he continues at this rate, Dominguez could be in line for his first Eclipse Award.

"It hasn't even crossed my mind," Dominguez said. "And I'm sure whoever hears me say that will be like 'My God, this guy is full of himself.' But I'm 100 percent honest, it hasn't even crossed my mind. But now that you mention it, that would be super if it happens.

"Anytime you try harder just to accomplish anything like that it's not really going to help. You just get up every day and keep doing what you're doing and hope that things are clicking into place, and at the end of the year if something like that happens that'll be super. It won't be on my mind, that's for sure."