07/05/2012 1:11PM

Q&A: Rene Douglas, former jockey and current owner

Courtesy of the Douglas family

Rene Douglas had won six Arlington Park riding titles when a spill during the 2009 Arlington Matron left him paralyzed from the waist down. He has generally shunned the sport since then, but he has engineered the purchase of two horses from his native Panama: Golden Moka, who won the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Woodbine in his first start after Douglas’s ownership group, the Old Friends Stable, bought him early in 2010, and Private Zone, who was undefeated in his Panamanian starts before being purchased and sent to trainer Doug O’Neill in California.

Age: 45

Residence: Aventura, Fla.

Family: wife, Natalia; three children

You recently received stem cell therapy in Panama. Did the treatment have any effect? That treatment did help me. For one thing, I don’t get sick anymore like I used to. It just made my body stronger, just makes me feel healthier. About four months ago, everyone around me got sick, and this time I didn’t. Also my feet don’t swell up as much as they used to. But don’t get me wrong: I’m keeping my ears and my eyes wide open to see if anything else happens with these treatments. My doctor in Panama, Jorge Paz Rodriguez, he stays on top of all the new technology. Because of that, I have to keep myself in good shape in case something comes up. I get a lot of exercise.

How tough was it when Golden Moka was hurt this winter and had to be put down? He had finished second to a good horse at Gulfstream, and we sent him to Ocala to train him at a farm. He was getting ready to come back when he stepped in a hole and broke his back leg. He had been so good for us. He was a beautiful horse, a happy horse. It was really a terrible thing.

What can you tell me about this new horse, Private Zone? I was hunting this horse for at least four months. I almost got him, and then the owner didn’t want to sell at the last minute. Believe it or not, there was competition to buy this horse. He’s a 3-year-old, and he had to run with older horses. They put him in a sprint race, a Grade 1 over there, and he surprised everyone and beat the older horses. We bought him after that. There are a lot of things I like about this horse. We’ll see if I’m right again with this one.

I’ve never seen a horse run that way. He was way in front, he let everyone go past him, and then he wound up winning easily again. And that was going six furlongs.

I think he can do anything. I think he can run long. I rode his father, Macho Uno, one time, and I won on him. He was a small horse with a big heart.

If Private Zone turns out to be a good horse and runs in a big race in California, will you go? Yes. I’ll go. I couldn’t go see Golden Moka win the big race in Canada because I was in Panama getting the therapy. But let me tell you, I got to watch that race there, and I was going crazy. I was watching him, and I kept slapping my legs yelling for him, and of course I have no feeling, and I was hitting my legs so hard I made marks. It was pretty funny.

I just want this horse to do well. I want my friends to be happy like they were last time. I think I can do it again.

Why California and Doug O’Neill? I rode for him some. I rode Lava Man. I respect him as a trainer, and I always have. We had a couple options out there, but we had to pick one. I talked to Doug O’Neill before I got him, and he said, “Of course, Rene, I’d be honored to train a horse for you.”
As far as California, I really wanted him to be out there. If you have a top horse, you can just run without having to ship. I want him to be at home.

So what does O’Neill have to say about the horse? O’Neill said he’s still learning. I want to start from zero again. I want them to really teach him and learn how to behave, and then we’ll take it day by day. I’m excited. I don’t know. We’ll see. He’ll take a little time, but I think he’s better than Golden Moka.

Do you still follow what’s going on in racing?  I’d be lying to you if I say I’d been following races. I watch a couple races here and there, but it’s still hard for me. I feel better watching if I’m doing it with a horse I own.

Do you still reflect on or relive parts of your career? The accident is done. I cannot go back, so really, no, I don’t think back that much. When I start thinking too much like that, I have to start thinking of something else. I don’t go back and say, ‘I won this one, I rode this one.’ I try to think ahead. I focus on me, my family, and trying to get better. I’m just waiting for a doctor to come with good news.