08/23/2013 9:15AM

Fort Erie: Crawford a rider determined to stay the course


FORT ERIE, Ontario – Shortly after leaving the gate in last Sunday’s sixth race, jockey Juan Crawford noticed that his first-time starter, Hot in Any Way, was running greenly and being bothered from dirt being kicked back into his face.

Crawford, 34, decided to ease his horse to the outside to relieve the kickback, and the 4-year-old began to relax. Turning for home, Hot in Any Way was in midpack, off the rail, and beginning to close.

“We were making up ground when he began to drift in, and again the dirt coming back was a concern,” said Crawford. “Suddenly he ducked out, dropped me and headed for the paddock chute. I had a fraction of a second to prepare for a rough landing.”

Crawford hit the ground, bounced and rolled four times and then stopped. He could instantly feel some pain, but nothing excessive.

Not surprisingly, at least to those knowing the shape this rider is in, Crawford headed to post 20 minutes later for the seventh race and finished third with Hollywood Bear.

He won the eighth with Heavenly Mission, and then after the ninth race he called it a day.

“I began to feel some pain in a few places,” said the jockey, “so booked off the last, and then briefed my replacement.”

Juan Crawford does not have an inch of body fat on him. He is rock-solid throughout.

“I like to keep in good shape,” said the rider, “and in that way I can easily handle as many mounts in a day that hopefully come my way.”

Crawford, born and raised in Barbados, arrived in Winnipeg in the spring of 2002 and since then has spent seasons at Assiniboia Downs, Fort Erie, and Woodbine. He is married and has four children.

As a youngster in Barbados, he was brought up in the Pentecostal and Anglican churches and continues to keep the faith with an early-morning read of the Bible.

“Today, I am a Christian and a practicing Rastafarian,” said Crawford, “and with my vow I am a vegetarian – no meat, but plenty of a fruit – as I strive to maintain a good level of physical fitness. You also may have noticed my hairstyle, since I work at maintaining my Rastafarian locks.”

Crawford’s current record at the Fort is 16-26-23 from 164 mounts, and he sits in a tie for sixth place in the rider standings.

One of his strong points, much admired by owners and trainers, is his ability to finish a race and hustle to the wire.

“I recognize the difference in placing and purses,” said Crawford, “and what a place finish versus a show result can mean to the pocketbook.”

One area of disappointment for Crawford has been his results this year at Woodbine, where has yet to win while finishing second or third nine times.

“I do not have an agent in Toronto and try to hustle my own book, which is never easy,” said Crawford. “The vast majority of my rides are longshots in the morning line, but I do give it my very best every time out.”

Discussing his future plans, the subject of Fort Erie’s on-and-off demise was broached.

“My wife and I really love the Fort Erie area,” said Crawford. “The many trees here are similar to the Barbados environment where I grew up.

“We hope things will sort themselves out and that there a long-range plan for the track. It is difficult for jockeys, trainers, grooms and track management under present circumstances.”

Following the end of the Fort Erie season in mid-October, Crawford intends to finish off his year at Woodbine.