Rarely does anything of lasting significance happen on Aqueduct's inner track on a Friday in mid-January. Unfortunately, this year something did, and the aftereffects of a spill have ended the career of one of the world's most successful and respected jockeys, Ramon Dominguez.
The 36-year-old Venezuelan announced his retirement Thursday. He leaves in his prime, after winning the Eclipse Award as the nation's leading rider for the past three years and leading New York's standings the past four. Dominguez rode 4,985 winners and his mounts earned more than $191 million.
He suffered a fractured skull and brain trauma Jan. 18 after Convocation clipped heels and threw him before a trailing horse hit him. Dominguez was hospitalized almost three weeks and has undergone extensive physical and occupational therapy. Doctors feared another head injury could be devastating and decided it would be too risky for him to ride again.
In a statement released through the New York Racing Association, Dominguez said:
"Riding thoroughbreds has always been my passion and my calling. When I was 13 and watched my first race in Venezuela, I knew I would become a jockey, and my career has brought happiness and success beyond what I ever expected.
"Thus, it is extremely difficult for me to announce that due to the severity of injuries I sustained Jan. 18, my professional riding career has come to an end. While I hoped and even expected to be able to return, upon the advice of my physicians, I will not be able to.
"I want to thank my family, fans, and fellow riders for overwhelming support since my accident. I chose to make this statement to end speculation about my future, but I am not yet ready to speak publicly. I will come forward on my own, but in the meantime I ask that you please respect my privacy as I continue my recovery."
Dominguez won many stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher, including last year's Cigar Mile on owner Mike Repole's Stay Thirsty. "It's very sad," Pletcher said, "not only a terrific jockey but an outstanding person. As successful as he was, he never changed his personality."
In an email to Newsday, Repole wrote: "Today is a sad day for the racing community. Ramon's sudden retirement in the prime of his career is tough to accept. He will be a Hall of Famer one day."
Dominguez, an intelligent, articulate ambassador for racing, is a fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. NYRA director of racing P.J. Campo offered this tribute: "Ramon has epitomized class on and off the racetrack. He has built a towering reputation that serves as a standard for all future jockeys."
Fellow rider Rajiv Maragh called the news "a dagger to my heart. To be so close to somebody and have this happen is really devastating. He's very competitive on the track, but off the track he'll do anything to help you."