11/23/2011 5:15PM

Hovdey: Dominguez goes west for working weekend

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Ramon Dominguez, with $18.9 million in purse earnings going into Thanksgiving weekend, may be in line for another Eclipse Award.

Ramon Dominguez, racing’s Energizer bunny, takes his show on the road this Thanksgiving holiday to ride Unbridled Humor for Graham Motion in the $250,000 Matriarch at Hollywood Park, with a warm-up aboard More Than Love in the $100,000 Miesque Stakes for John Terranova.

That’s it, just two mounts, the equivalent of a yawn and a stretch for a jock who has ridden an average 1,424 horses every year for the past 10 years. Dominguez had better travel with a good book, otherwise he might get fleeced by Eddie Maldonado at racetrack rummy or dusted by Martin Pedroza at the pool table, such are the pitfalls for those who are more accustomed to riding the card.

Dominguez won the Matriarch in 2008 aboard Cocoa Beach for Godolphin. In Unbridled Humor, he has a 5-for-7 emerging star with whom he won the Noble Damsel at Belmont in September in their only collaboration. A 4-year-old daughter of Distorted Humor bred by her owner, Charlotte Weber, Unbridled Humor has speed, she breaks from the rail, and she enjoys firm ground, which she did not get when second last time out in the Athenia, under John Velazquez.

“I was very impressed with her the day I rode her,” Dominguez said from home in New York on Tuesday. “It was a race where there was no speed whatsoever, so getting her to relax was my main concern. She was pretty keyed up the first part, and being a one-turn mile. sometimes that is a race where it’s harder to get them to settle down.”

In the Noble Damsel, Unbridled Humor opened a wide lead around the turn and into the stretch, which is fine if they pay at the eighth pole.

“I was concerned she was pushing herself more than I wanted,” Dominguez continued. “Then turning for home she switched leads and kicked into another gear.”

The winning margin was 1 3/4 lengths.

“So we’re coming to California with a pretty nice filly,” Dominguez added. “And the turf should be firm, which is always helpful with a front-runner like her.”

Dominguez has been most closely associated in 2011 with Havre de Grace, the nation’s leading older female and among the prime candidates for Horse of the Year honors, with victories in the Apple Blossom, the Woodward, and the Beldame highlighting the season. She had a chance to nail down the title at the Breeders’ Cup earlier this month at Churchill Downs, but it didn’t happen.

“I feel she had her chance, but she really didn’t kick in,” Dominguez said. “Churchill Downs is a funny track. Horses can either love it or hate it. Who’s to say she maybe wasn’t crazy about the track? Turning for home she was already under a drive. I thought she was very brave to hang on and be fourth.”

Dominguez did manage to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and finish second in the Ladies’ Classic and the Juvenile Fillies. But then, he had 11 rides, and his highest hopes did not even hit the board. Stacelita was stomped in the Filly and Mare Turf. Big Drama was dull in his defense of the Sprint. It was unreasonable to expect Dean’s Kitten to shock the Turf – like Dominguez did with Hansen in the Juvenile – but he figured to finish better than ninth of nine.

Dominguez was primed for a big finish, though, with Gio Ponti in the Mile and Havre De Grace in the Classic. The result – fourth, fourth. So endeth another painful Breeders’ Cup lesson.

“I was very happy to win the Juvenile and get those two good seconds, so I can't say I was disappointed,” Dominguez said. “But a number of my horses looked good on paper, and my expectations were very high. It only shows how difficult it is to win a Breeders’ Cup race.”

The relatively modest Dominguez tally at the Cup allowed John Velazquez to creep closer to the leader in the purse standings, still the table by which American racing measures its jockeys. Going into the Thanksgiving holiday week, the Dominguez total stood at $18.9 million, a little over a million bucks up on Velazquez.

This is an almost obscene concentration of success – nearly $37 million in purse earnings represented in one corner of the New York jockeys’ room, where Dominguez and Velazquez occupy cubicles side by side. At least, way back when, Shoemaker and Pincay had the decency not to get dressed next to each other.

North American racing could do a whole lot worse than having the Puerto Rican Velazquez and the Venezuelan Dominguez as the faces on the Wheaties box. Both are upstanding citizens, articulate and passionate about their craft, admired by their colleagues as fierce, fair competitors who have worked hard for their rewards. It is not the least bit weird, therefore, that Dominguez, born in 1976, and Velazquez, born in 1971, share Nov. 24 as their birthdays – this year celebrated on Thanksgiving Day. Well, maybe a little weird.

Dominguez claims he is not wrapped up in the quest for a second straight money championship – to go along with his two earlier titles as the leader in races won – nor does he dwell on the possibility of a second straight Eclipse Award. Once past the holiday weekend he is saving his anticipation for an international jockeys competition in Tokyo the first week of December. Velazquez – who else? – will be going as well.

“I was in Japan only one other time, when I rode Better Talk now in the Japan Cup,” Dominguez said.

Before jumping on a plane to California, Dominguez was set to celebrate his Thanksgiving birthday at Aqueduct by riding all nine races, including Sunrise Smarty at 130 pounds in the Fall Highweight Handicap – a race that by all rights should be run the day after Thanksgiving.

“That would make more sense,” Dominguez said with a laugh. “Anyway, my family will save me some turkey for when I get home.”

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