12/11/2014 2:00PM

Hovdey: Solis ready to join the 5,000 club


Alex Solis, the most recent jockey inducted into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, was walking around this week with an official total of 4,999 winners gathered in the United Stakes and Canada. He was scheduled to ride two horses Friday at Los Alamitos but none Saturday, which is too bad since Saturday will be a good day at the Orange County track, featuring Breeders’ Cup winner Take Charge Brandi in the $350,000 Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

So, instead of a premature celebration of a 33-year career, let’s set the stage. After all, the number 5,000 has a magical ring. Companies love to use it in their names and products. The Olympics have a 5,000-meter race, won in London by Britain’s Mo Farah. The United States has a $5,000 bill with James Madison’s mug.

Solis would be the 29th jockey to win 5,000 races, according to stats kept by Equibase. That makes for a pretty exclusive club, comprising every man and woman who has pulled on the white pants since such a milestone started to matter.

That would have been the middle of the 20th century, when five-time American champion Johnny Longden started sneaking up on the British jockey Gordon Richards, who had passed 4,000 wins. In those days, 2,000 winners was a significant benchmark. By the end of 1952, only eight riders were in the club: Longden, Eddie Arcaro, Ted Atkinson, John Adams, Ralph Neves, Steve Brooks, Jack Westrope, and Fernando Fernandez.

Longden flew past Richards in 1956 with a flourish. Then, on Feb. 28, 1957, Longden lit up a dark and rainy afternoon at Santa Anita by becoming the first rider to hit 5,000, aboard a horse named Bente.

By then, young Bill Shoemaker was leapfrogging over his older contemporaries on the list. It took Shoemaker just 16 seasons to hit the 5,000 mark – Longden did it in his 31st – and it happened on Oct. 22, 1964, at Aqueduct, aboard Slapstick.

Longden and Shoemaker had the club to themselves for 17 years before Laffit Pincay won No. 5,000 aboard Wander during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita on Sept. 30, 1981. Angel Cordero was next (June 29, 1983), followed closely by fellow New Yorker Jorge Velasquez (Oct. 5, 1983). Both happened at Belmont Park.

Longden, Shoemaker, Pincay, Cordero, and Velasquez made for a pretty strong starting five. But the 5,000 club was not restricted to future Hall of Famers. Three of the next four were regional stalwarts Larry Snyder (1984), David Gall (1987), and Carl Gambardella (1988). Sandy Hawley, a Hall of Famer in both Canada and the United States, reached 5,000 on June 26, 1986, at Canterbury Downs.

Chris McCarron became the 10th jockey to hit 5,000 on July 21, 1989, at Hollywood Park. It was a Friday evening card built around a farewell ceremony for the retiring Shoemaker, and history was well served. Only one rider got to 5,000 faster than the 34-year-old McCarron: Shoemaker, who was 33.

In 1990, the 5,000 club grew to include the Midwestern stars Earlie Fires (Aug. 19, Arlington Park) and Pat Day (Nov. 22, Churchill Downs). Jacinto Vasquez, at 48, won No. 5,000 on May 23, 1992, at Calder, and on March 10, 1993, Eddie Delahoussaye came on board after winning with Ackler at Santa Anita Park. Later that summer, Delahoussaye entered the Hall of Fame.

It took Russell Baze 21 seasons to win 5,000 races, which he did on July 29, 1995, at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, Calif. In the 19 years since then, Baze has added more than 7,000 to his total, with 12,434 entering Thursday’s action at Golden Gate Fields, where he was named on six.

Baze made it 15 in the club. There was a lull, and then followed Ronald Ardoin (Aug. 20, 2000, Louisiana Downs), Jerry Bailey (May 6, 2001, Belmont), Mario Pino (Sept. 8, 2002, Delaware Park), and Edgar Prado (March 13, 2004, Gulfstream Park). On May 1, 2006, Tony Black swelled the membership to 20 with win No. 5,000 at Philadelphia Park.

Mark Guidry’s 5,000th win at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2007, was lost in the swirl of the next day’s Kentucky Derby, but it still counted. Later that summer on Aug. 21, “Scoot ‘n Boot” Perry Ouzts hit 5,000 at River Downs.

Kent Desormeaux (July 28, 2008, at Saratoga), Tim Doocy (April 4, 2009, at Oaklawn), and Mike Smith (April 7, 2012, at Santa Anita) came along next, as the 5,000 club grew to 25. The racing of 2013 added Calvin Borel (March 7, Oaklawn), Terry Houghton (May 4, ThistleDown), and John Velazquez, the most recent, on June 14 of that year.

All but Longden and Shoemaker are still alive, and 11 of the club are still riding. They’ve dusted off a chair for Solis, whenever he gets the job done, and stand ready to teach him the secret handshake.

As to who’s next, according to Equibase stats, the rejuvenated Gary Stevens is on the brink with 4,990. But what’s this? A photo of Stevens in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park taken on Oct. 30, 2005, holding a sign that says “5,000 Wins”?

“Equibase doesn’t count the Japan Cup, the Dubai World Cup, races I won in England, in Hong Kong,” Stevens said, ticking off the stops in his colorful career. “I guess they don’t exist. But they sure felt like winners to me.”

So, what happens, then, when he hits 5,000 all over again?

“I don’t know,” Stevens said. “I guess I’ll put that sign up by the other one,”