10/01/2010 2:29PM

Hamel closes in on a 'satisfying' riding title


VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Maturity, sobriety, and stability are some of the contributing factors in Richard Hamel being on the verge of becoming the leading rider at Hastings for the first time in his career. Going into the final five days of racing at Hastings, Hamel is a cinch to win the title with 78 wins, seven more than Fernando Perez, who isn’t active. Pedro Alvarado is a distant third with 61 wins.

Hamel, 41, has been a solid journeyman throughout a career that began here when he was 18. He crossed the 1,000-win threshold a few weeks ago and is still excited about the accomplishment and winning the Grade 3 British Columbia Derby with Majesticality last Sunday.

“Winning a thousand races was huge for me,” Hamel said. “The first time I looked at my statistics was when I went to Macau to ride in 2005. I had about 700 wins and I made it a personal goal to get over the 1,000 mark.”

Hamel currently has 1,014 wins and his ride on Majesticality showed the maturity he has developed over the years. He didn’t panic after Majesticality got off to a poor start. Instead, Hamel let Majesticality settle into stride and he made a smart decision by taking Majesticality wide and keeping him out of trouble when he made his strong late move.

“When things are going well for you, it seems like every decision you make is the right one,” Hamel said. “I think I have developed into a very good bullring rider. It is definitely harder, and you have to make a lot more quick decisions as opposed to riding on a mile track.”

Hamel isn’t having the best year of his career. That happened in 2001 when he was the leading rider at Stampede Park. He is enjoying this year more, however, partly because this is home and he also has proven to everyone that he is more than what he termed “a race filler.”

“I won more stakes and earned more money in 2001, but this is a lot more satisfying,” Hamel said. “This is where I started riding, and this is where I wanted to show people that I can do it. I wanted to earn the respect from the people here, and I think I’ve done that.”

Hamel might have stayed in Alberta to ride, but he went out of favor there due to a misunderstanding with racing officials that turned some of the prominent trainers against him in 2004. Along with most of the jockeys at Stampede Park, Hamel voted against riding over a track they deemed unsafe.

“We held a silent vote, and I think the vote was 13 to 3 against riding,” Hamel said. “The stewards came in and wanted to make us tell them who voted against riding. I told them we had a silent vote for a reason. I was singled out and was blamed for cancelling the races. The next day, trainers paid double jock mounts to take me off of their horses.”

Hamel’s decision to quit drinking three years ago certainly has a lot to do with his success this year. He is taken more seriously and he also feels a lot better about getting out and working in the mornings.

“I hid it pretty well but I had a problem with it,” Hamel said. “I just got tired of the way I felt every morning. I feel so much better physically and mentally now.”

Hamel also said that watching his father drink himself to death had a big influence in his change in lifestyle.

“He had helped my older brother get his driver’s license and just a week later my brother was killed in a car accident,” Hamel said. “He was 17 and my father just went inside himself after that.”

Stability came when Hamel connected with trainer Charlene Miller not long after he quit drinking.

“She helped tame me a little,” Hamel said. “She is a great partner. We both love working with horses, and it makes it fun to come to work every day with her.”

It doesn’t matter how good of a rider you are if you aren’t riding quality mounts. Hamel has been riding much better horses this year, and one of his favorite horses is Wind Storm. Hamel gave Wind Storm a rail-skimming ride to win the Delta Colleen last Saturday. It was Wind Storm’s fourth win in a row, and Hamel is looking forward to riding her for trainer Dave Forster in the Grade 3 Ballerina next Sunday.

“She is such an amazing mare,” Hamel said. “She just waits for me to tell her what to do and then she responds to whatever the situation calls for.”

Forster has always thought Hamel was a good rider and he is happy to see him succeed.

“He has always been a good rider and a nice guy,” Forster said. “He is finally getting better mounts, and it makes all the difference.”

Hamel has shown a lot more confidence, not only in his riding but also in himself this year, and his best days as a rider appear to be in the future.

“It is nice to be on a roll, and I am just going to enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts,” he said.