04/28/2016 11:20AM

Parker nears milestone of 5,000 career wins

Coady Photography
Deshawn Parker is closing in on his 5,000th career victory.

Deshawn Parker is on the verge of riding his 5,000th career winner, which in itself is not all that surprising. Parker is the all-time leading rider at Mountaineer Park, has led the nation in wins twice, and has won 200 races or more in 13 of the last 14 years.

What is amazing is that Parker is 5-foot-11 and at age 45 can still tack 116 pounds. When Parker started out in 1988 at Thistledown, even he didn’t think his career would last very long.

“At the time, because I was so big, my plan wasn’t really to be a rider; I thought I was going to outgrow it,” Parker said. “I never thought I’d be able to ride long enough to win so many races, and I never expected I’d have the opportunity to win as much as I have.”

Coming into Saturday’s races at Mountaineer, Parker has 4,993 victories, 4,558 of which have come at the Chester, W.Va., track. He also has ridden successfully at Sam Houston Race Park the last three years and was the leading rider there in 2015. Parker has career purse earnings of $58 million.

Parker is off to a blazing start at this year’s Mountaineer meet, which began April 16, and has won with 28 of his first 68 mounts. No other rider has more than 10 wins.

“I love riding,” Parker said. “It doesn’t feel like a job to me. I want to ride as long as I can.”

Parker will become the 32nd rider to win 5,000 races in North America. Joe Bravo, Gary Stevens, and Alex Solis all reached the milestone in 2015.

Parker grew up in Cincinnati. His father, Daryl Parker, galloped horses and for many years was an outrider at Latonia Race Course, which was renamed Turfway Park in 1986. That same year, Daryl Parker was named the first black steward in the United States. He currently is a state steward at Thistledown.

Deshawn Parker, who resides in East Liverpool, Ohio, just across the Ohio River from Chester, with his wife, Maria, and their sons, Deshawn Jr. and Justus, is the winningest black rider in history.

Parker scored the richest victory of his career last year in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Cup on Looks to Spare, who paid $150.60. He also has won the $125,000 Mountaineer Mile three times. The closest Parker has come to winning a graded race came in the 2012 West Virginia Derby, where he finished second by a half-length on Bourbon Courage.

Parker led the nation in wins in 2010 (377) and 2011 (400). In 2012, he was presented with the Laffit Pincay Jr. Award by the Jockeys’ Guild. The Pincay Award honors the greatest riding achievement of the prior year.

One of Parker’s favorite memories came when he rode Frazee’s Folly to victory in 2004, giving the late Dale Baird his 9,000th career win. Parker and Baird won 635 races together.

“I spent a good part of my career riding for Mr. Baird,” Parker said. “Riding for him gave me opportunities with a lot of other people.”

One of Parker’s favorite horses is Rapid Redux, who he won on four times during the horse’s 22-race winning streak between December 2010 and January 2012.

Billy Johnson has been Parker’s agent for almost 16 years and estimates that they have won about 4,100 races together.

“Deshawn’s greatest attributes are his riding and his professionalism,” Johnson said. “He’s very intelligent about how races fall together and how a track is playing on a given night.”

Johnson’s brother is Gary Johnson, a former leading trainer in Ohio who gave Parker his first mount at age 16.

“For me, it started as friendship and then developed into family and a partnership,” Billy Johnson said.

Parker still remembers the night before Gary Johnson legged him up on his first mount.

“My dad, me, Gary, and Billy used to play on the same softball team,” he said. “We played a game the night before my first ride.”