05/15/2013 4:14PM

Louisiana Downs: Walker, 52, seeks 3,000th career win as jockey

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BOSSIER CITY, La. – There is a hint of nostalgia in the air at Louisiana Downs. The track’s 40th season has produced a homecoming of sorts for veteran jockey Bobby Walker Jr. and agent Wendy Smith, two major players locally in the 1980s.

Walker was a perennial top-10 rider, while Smith represented several other top-shelf jockeys during the period. While both admittedly are in the twilight of their careers – they have spent more than 90 years between them at the racetrack – a common goal has brought the two together for one last fling.

“I’m here to help get Bobby to 3,000,” Smith said, referring to Walker’s quest for 3,000 career riding victories. “I think we are about 35 away.”

Smith, who has been in and out of retirement in recent years, dabbles with some lower-profile riders when he “gets tired of sitting around and not doing enough,” he said. His latest gig, however, has a different feel.

“I started hustling book when I was 19 at Hazel Park, and I’m 79 now,” Smith said with a wry smile. “It’s what I do.”

The list of jockeys Smith has represented is lengthy, but the rider he is most frequently associated with is Larry Snyder. The two spent 22 years together, with Smith responsible for booking the majority of Snyder’s 6,000-plus career victories. They led the country in 1969 with 352 wins.

Smith previously represented Walker three different times. The two teamed up at Remington Park in the early 1990s and also worked together at Detroit Race Course and Hoosier Park.

Walker’s return to Louisiana Downs in 2013 has brought the 52-year-old full circle. A native of West Monroe, La., Walker won his first career race on a horse named Markasian as an apprentice here Oct. 10, 1979.

“It does seem like a lot of years ago,” Walker said. “They have a way of getting away from you.”

One detects a slight sense of urgency in Walker’s pursuit of the 3,000-win milestone. The inspiration for his quest came after he lost close friend and fellow rider E.J. Perrodin to brain cancer last summer, not long after Perrodin won his 3,000th race. Walker spent several weeks at Perrodin’s bedside at the end.

“It’s a big motivation for me,” Walker said. “Tee Joe and I were tight for a long time. You hardly saw one of us without the other.”

Walker took the winter off after finishing up the Canterbury meeting last fall. The time away produced another reunion of sorts, as Walker was able to spend quality time with his daughter Brittany and son Aaron.

“It was great,” he said. “I galloped a few in the mornings to say fit and really came into this meet fresh.”

The tandem of Walker and Smith already has proven to be a force to be reckoned with this spring. Walker won twice last Friday and came within two noses of a three-bagger in the day’s final race. Walker and Smith have made no plans for later in the year, choosing instead to focus on the task at hand.

“We want to get the 35 wins and then go from there,” Walker said. “I’ve got my share of aches and pains, as we all do when we get older, but overall, I feel pretty good. My plan is to keep winning races. It just hurts a little more than it used to.”

Need for Speed at Evangeline

It’s all about speed Friday night at Evangeline Downs, with the Need for Speed Stakes. The $50,000 headliner drew 10 of the fastest horses on the grounds and will be run at five furlongs on turf.

Comisky’s Humor has been installed as the tepid 3-1 favorite. The Ron Faucheux charge drew the advantageous No. 1 post and will be reunited with Richard Eramia, who booted the speedy Sharp Humor gelding to three consecutive victories last winter at Fair Grounds.

Should the inevitable quick early pace unwind up front, Sweetsouthernmoon might be best equipped to pick up the pieces. The late-running 7-year-old is trained by Keith Bourgeois and will be ridden by Joe Patin.