08/21/2007 12:00AM

Ouzts latest to join 5,000-win club


CINCINNATI - Perry Ouzts joined one of the most elite clubs in racing when he rode his 5,000th winner Tuesday at River Downs, becoming just the 22nd jockey in North America racing history to achieve that lofty milestone.

Ouzts, 53, was aboard Kandinsky in the first race, a $4,000 claiming sprint. Breaking with the pack from the inside post in a field of seven, Kandinsky fought for the early lead with Twice as Fabulous before pulling away to win the six-furlong race by 3 3/4 lengths.

Upon returning, Ouzts was greeted by close to 200 friends, family members, and well-wishers in and around the winner's circle, and they responded with enthusiastic applause befitting a local hero.

"It feels really, really good, just great," Ouzts said shortly afterward.

Of the 22 men who have ridden 5,000 winners, Ouzts surely ranks among the least well-known among American racing fans. After starting his riding career at Beulah Park in 1973, Ouzts soon became a fixture at River, Beulah, and Turfway Park (then Latonia), seldom venturing outside his home region.

"I like to win," he said. "When I'd try somewhere else, the horses weren't fast enough."

Besides, he added, he is extremely comfortable where he lives.

"This is a really, really nice area," he said. "It's been good to me."

Like most riders with as much experience, Ouzts has suffered countless injuries, most notably five broken vertebrae and multiple arm fractures suffered last year in a spill.

"I kept coming back because I love it so much," he said. "I guess I'll quit riding when I don't want to do it anymore."

Dean Sarvis, a three-time River riding champion, was among the many to offer Ouzts his congratulations. A Maryland native who has traveled extensively in a 20-year riding career, Sarvis is typical among River jockeys in his admiration for Ouzts.

"I've ridden with a lot of guys, a lot," Sarvis said. "If there's one guy I'd pick for his class, his integrity, and his work ethic, it'd be Perry. For a young rider, he's the guy you need to look up to. He's not only an outstanding rider, he's an even better person."

Kandinsky, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Stephen Got Even, returned $5 to win as the favorite. He is owned and trained by Kenny Hickman.

Hickman was among the first group to be photographed with Ouzts as part of a regular, albeit crowded, winner's circle photo. Three more sets of photos then were snapped: one with Ouzts's closest friends and family members; one an official commemorative presentation by River president and general manager Jack Hanessian; and one with his fellow jockeys.

Much like Barry Bonds in his recent quest to achieve the all-time home run record, Ouzts lamented that it seemingly took forever to hit the mark. But once he did so, he kept rolling: He rode G Areyoukidding, a 1-5 shot, to an easy triumph in the second race, and then completed a sweep of the early pick three when Don't Rock My Boat, the 2-1 favorite, won the third race. Ouzts finally lost a race when One Eyed Gambler faded to third in the fourth race.

Ouzts is just the seventh jockey who is still active to have won 5,000 races. Russell Baze, with 9,816 wins through last weekend, leads both the all-time and active lists. Laffit Pincay Jr. is second in all-time wins with 9,530, followed by Bill Shoemaker and Pat Day. Among active jockeys, Earlie Fires, with 6,418, has the most after Baze.

Mark Guidry had been the latest to win 5,000, having done so at Churchill Downs in the first race on the May 4 Kentucky Oaks card. Tim Doocy, with 4,829 winners, and Kent Desormeaux, with 4,811, are next on deck for the 5,000 mark.