06/26/2013 1:25PM

Evangeline Downs: Ricky Faul retires with 3,364 wins as jockey

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OPELOUSAS, La. – Jockey Ricky Faul is calling it a career after 35 years in the saddle. The 51-year-old native of Sunset, La., retires with 3,364 victories in a career that began with his first win at Delta Downs in March 1978.

“It’s been a good run,” Faul said. “Heck, it’s been a great run. I don’t want to [retire], but I have to. I sure don’t want to go out in a wheelchair.”

Faul is scheduled for surgery July 17 to fuse his L4 and L5 vertebrae, the result of the pounding and injuries Faul has suffered through the years. The most recent incident came at Delta Downs this year.

“A horse fell with me, and I knew I hurt my back,” he said. “It was bothering me, but it always has, it seems. I’ve had a couple of surgeries over the years and have always come back, but the doctors say this is it. When they start talking about the possibilities of being paralyzed, you don’t argue.”

Faul’s career exploits have been many. He won riding titles at such far-flung venues as Hoosier Park and the now-defunct Birmingham Race Course. Closer to home, he was the leading rider at Delta Downs and at the old Evangeline Downs in nearby Carencro, La.

While he has been a winner everywhere he has ridden, Faul is perhaps best known for his dominance at the old Jefferson Downs in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Faul was the leading rider there for 10 seasons, including 1989, when he amassed 220 wins, which is believed to be a state record.

“I just felt invincible that summer,” Faul said. “It seems we were winning three or four every night. When you have your youth and your health, you feel like you can do anything.”

Nicknamed “The Bus Driver” by his fellow riders and fans for his somewhat unusual riding style, Faul said one of his favorite horses to ride was the locally based High Strike Zone, who gave Faul his biggest score, the Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park in 2005.

Faul said he plans to remain in racing in some capacity following his surgery but is first concentrating on the issue at hand.

“They say I will be in a body cast for 90 days, so I’ll have some time to think about some things,” he said. “Maybe clerk of scales, stay in the [jockeys’] room and be with the guys. Maybe teach some of the younger riders. Right now, I’m just spending time with my family, getting my ducks in a row before the operation.”

Soto gets first two wins

While one riding career has come to an end here this summer, another is just beginning.

Cindy Soto picked up her first two wins last Wednesday night, capturing the opener aboard favorite Wildcat Jury ($6.40) and the evening’s final race with another public choice, Runaway Satan ($5.60). Scott Gelner trains both winners. Soto broke into the win column with her 15th mount of the season.

Louisiana Legends nominees

Interest is running high for Louisiana Legends Night, set for Saturday, July 6. A total of 215 nominations have been accepted for the meeting’s biggest night, which will feature eight stakes races restricted to Louisiana-breds with purses worth a combined $775,000.

Conspicuously absent from this year’s list of nominees is Star Guitar. A winner of 24 of 30 career starts, Star Guitar retired following an unprecedented fourth consecutive Legends Classic victory in 2012. He earned more than $1.7 million in his career and recently was named Louisiana Horse of the Year for the fourth year in a row.

“It doesn’t seem like you can talk about Legends Night without ‘Star’,” said his trainer, Al Stall Jr. “We all sure miss him. I’ve nominated a couple for this year’s Legends Night, but it won’t be the same.”

◗ Also slated for next week are the trials for the D.S. “Shine” Young Futurity. On Wednesday evening, 44 fillies will try to make it into the 12-horse final, while 40 colts and geldings will attempt to qualify Thursday night. The two finals, estimated at more than $120,000 each, will be run July 27.