Updated on 06/15/2013 10:54PM

Ramon Dominguez retires as jockey due to injuries from spill

Barbara D. Livingston
Ramon Dominguez announced Thursday that he has been forced to end his riding career as a result of injuries sustained in a Jan. 18 spill at Aqueduct.

ELMONT, N.Y. – As agent Steve Rushing made the rounds at Belmont Park on Thursday morning, he had the unenviable task of delivering the news that no horseman or racing fan wanted to hear: Jockey Ramon Dominguez has been forced to retire.

Rushing, who has served as Dominguez’s agent for 13 years, probably encapsulated Dominguez best with the following: “He’s a world-class rider, but he’s even a better person. It’s just devastating to lose someone like that in our industry.”

That was the sentiment that was echoed throughout Belmont Park on an appropriately gray Thursday morning and later throughout the racing world as colleagues and industry leaders reacted to the news of Dominguez’s retirement due to the effects of what Dominguez described in April as a “traumatic brain injury” he suffered in a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18.

“My God, this is a tough one,” John Velazquez, the Hall of Fame jockey who is chairman of the Jockeys’ Guild, said between races Wednesday at Belmont. “By far one of the best riders I’ve seen the whole time I’ve been riding here. On and off the track, a clas act. By not having him come back, the sport is losing big. I hope the people really do appreciate all he did. I do.”

Dominguez, via a press release issued through the New York Racing Association communications department, announced Thursday that he would retire from race-riding “due to the severity of the injuries” he sustained in a spill at Aqueduct when his mount, Convocation, clipped heels with another horse and unseated Dominguez, who was kicked by a trailing horse. Dominguez spent three weeks in a trio of hospitals before being released from the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., on Feb. 6.

“My professional riding career has come to an end,” Dominguez’s statement read. “While I hoped and even expected to be able to return to the saddle, as a result of my injuries and upon the advice of my treating physicians, it has been determined that I will no longer be able to pursue my career as a jockey.”

Videos: Ramon Dominguez memorable moments

Dominguez declined further interviews, saying that he would speak publicly at a later date.

Dominguez, 36, was in the prime of his career, having won the last three Eclipse Awards as North America’s top rider. In 2012, he set a single-year record for purse earnings won with $25,634,852. He was on the cusp of reaching the 5,000-win plateau.

Dominguez, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, retires with 4,985 wins, which ranks him 29th all-time, and with $191,615,698 in purse money won, placing him 14th.

“Riding Thoroughbreds has always been my passion and my calling,” Dominguez said. “When I was 13 and watched my first horse race in Venezuela, I knew that I would become a jockey, and my riding career has brought happiness and success beyond what I ever expected.”

Though Dominguez didn’t specifically address his physical well-being in the press release, Rushing said Dominguez is doing well, but was advised by doctors to retire because another spill could potentially cause further, more serious, damage.

“He’s doing great, there’s just a fear if he falls and bangs his head again that it’s not going to take much to reinjure it,” said Rushing, who had dinner with Dominguez and his family Wednesday night. “There’s too much of a risk to go back to such a dangerous job.”

Sad was the word used most in describing the loss of Dominguez, not only as a rider, but as a person.

“Ramon’s record as a rider speaks for itself, but being in the jockeys’ room with him for the past several years, he’s one of the most well-mannered, genuinely nice guys you’ll ever meet,” jockey Rajiv Maragh said. “A true competitor, but he always tried to help his peers.

“It’s really sad to hear that,” Maragh added. “Over the past couple of months, I’ve talked to him a few times, seeing how he was doing, and to me it seemed like he was progressing really well. I was really looking forward to having him in the jockeys’ room.”

Todd Pletcher, the five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, agreed it was not only sad to lose Dominguez, the rider, but Dominguez the “terrific person.”

“The saddest part,” Pletcher said, is “I don’t think he got to take it as far as he was capable of taking it. He was just really reaching his peak.”

Dominguez, who began riding horses in Venezuela at age 16, came to the United States in 1995 and quickly became the dominant rider in the Mid-Atlantic region. He won three meet riding titles at Laurel Park (2000-01), two meet titles at Pimlico in 2001, and was the leading rider at Delaware Park from 2004-07. Dominguez moved his tack permanently to New York in 2008 and was the New York Racing Association’s leading rider from 2009-12, winning 20 individual meet titles including Saratoga in 2009 and 2012. His 376 wins on the NYRA circuit in 2009 were the most on this circuit since Steve Cauthen won 422 in 1977.

“Ramon Dominguez leaves an indelible mark on Thoroughbred racing and his profession,” Alex Waldrop, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association said in a release. “His many victories and achievements earned him three consecutive Eclipse Awards as the nation’s leading jockey in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Above all, he epitomizes sportsmanship and professionalism as demonstrated by the respect he earned from his fellow jockeys. He is destined for Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame.”

In 2012, Dominguez was named the winner of the George Woolf Award, given out by Santa Anita and voted on by fellow riders. The award is presented to those jockeys who demonstrate high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.

“I don’t know if there’s a position in New York, but he certainly would be one of the best ambassadors the sport could have,” said trainer David Donk, at whose home Dominguez watched last weekend’s Belmont Stakes.

Dominguez is married and he and his wife, Sharon, have two young sons, Alexander, 8, and Matthew, 6.

“I remember the day after the spill I had to get on a plane,” Donk said. “I was pretty worried about him because I knew it was pretty serious. My only concern was that he could just go on and live a healthy life, even if he never rode again. If that’s the scenario – that’s what I wished for at the time – then I’m grateful for that.”

Ramon Dominguez: Bio & Career Highlights

Born: Nov. 24, 1976, Caracas, Venezuela

Family: Wife Sharon, sons Alexander and Matthew

First winner (U.S.): Solo Moondance (March 27, 1996, Hialeah Park)

Career statistics (North America, United Arab Emirates, Japan): 21,276 mounts, 4,985 wins (23 percent), 3,855 seconds, 3,159 thirds, $192,815,698 in earnings

Honors and accomplishments: Eclipse Award winner as outstanding jockey (2010, 2011, 2012); North American earnings leader (2010, 2011, 2012); North American record for earnings in a season ($25,634,852, 2012); North American wins leader (2001, 2003); NYRA wins leader (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012); recipient of the George Woolf Award (2012)

Breeders’ Cup wins: Better Talk Now (2004 Turf); Hansen (2011 Juvenile); Little Mike (2012 Turf)

Notable horses/Grade 1 wins: Stay Thirsty (2012 Cigar Mile); Alpha (2012 Travers S.); Little Mike (2012 Arlington Million); Tapitsfly (2012 Just a Game S.); Get Stormy (2012 Gulfstream Park H., 2011 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic H.); Gio Ponti (2011 and 2010 Shadwell Turf Mile, 2010 and 2009 Man o’ War S., 2009 Arlington Million, 2009 Frank E. Kilroe Mile H.); Havre de Grace (2011 Beldame S., 2011 Woodward S., 2011 Apple Blossom H.); Stacelita (2011 Flower Bowl Invitational H., 2011 Beverly D. S.); Haynesfield (2010 Jockey Club Gold Cup); Cocoa Beach (2008 Matriarch S., 2008 Beldame S.); Sky Diva (2008 Frizette S.); Unbridled Belle (2007 Beldame S.); Fabulous Strike (2007 Vosburgh S.); Better Talk Now (2007 Manhattan H., 2005 Man o’ War S., 2005 United Nations S., 2004 Sword Dancer Invitational S.); Invasor (2006 Pimlico Special H.); Tapit (2004 Wood Memorial S.)