A Guest Blog by Scott Dick
I originally set out to write a piece for the Nation about jockey Chris Emigh and his move to ride at Indiana Downs. When I first saw that Chris would be riding at Indiana Downs, I was a little surprised.
I knew that with all the added purse money from the addition of Indiana Live Casino that this meet would attract top-notch horses and better jockeys. But Chris Emigh? We're talking about a top-notch jock here!
I had the privilege of sitting down and talking with Chris about his career, his move to Indiana, and his life. After meeting with him, my whole vision for this piece changed.
Chris met me after a long and frustrating night of racing. It was one of those nights where things just weren't working out for him, or me for that matter. Emigh had mounts in all nine races, with his best chances of winning coming in the second and third. Both of these horses ended up scratching and Chris was winless on the night.
My frustrations came from throwing my back out earlier in the day while working out and due to poor betting strategies. I squandered multiple chances to cash big payoffs. My expectations for my meeting with Chris weren't too high. I anticipated a frustrated jockey, who probably wouldn't give me much.
Instead, Chris greeted me with a handshake and a smile, and like old friends we began to chat. He has a way of making you feel completely comfortable, with honest eyes and a contagious laugh. You can't help but like the guy. We chatted for about 30 minutes, and after I felt I had what I needed, I shook his hand and wished him a good night. He ended the conversation with, “Feel free to text or call anytime if you need any more info.”
After meeting with Chris, I came home, sat on the couch, and turned on ESPN. With the NBA Finals in full effect, they were replaying Lebron James’ “Decision Show,” where he would announce he was taking his “talents” to “South Beach.”
For those of you who don't know me, I come from a basketball background. Basketball was my first love, and I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. It went so far that I once asked my mom if I could shave my head and paint myself black so I could look like “Mike.”
I have recently lost my love for basketball and almost all sports stars. It seems like most of today's athletes have lost sight of what sports are all about. As I was watching this narcissistic “Decision Show,” I thought back on my conversation with Chris and it was like lightning struck in my mind.
This is why I love horse racing. A guy like Chris Emigh — after having a rough day with nothing going his way — takes the time out of his schedule to come and talk with me.
That's when I decided I would tell a little bit of Chris's story.
Chris was born in Virginia, but he grew up in Louisiana, the breeding ground for tough hard-nosed jockeys. He wasn't exactly born into horse racing royalty and his path wasn't like most.
He was introduced to the sport by chance, when in the seventh grade his school bus driver (who was also a horse trainer) thought Chris’s twin brother Aaron was small enough to be a jockey. Chris tagged along with his brother and began working at the trainer’s farm. This was his introduction to horse racing. During high school, while his brother was out riding races and making a nice living, Chris was into the rodeo scene. After finding out how hard that life was, with little or no pay, — while his brother was winning races and making lots of money — Chris did what any young man would do. He became a jockey.
Chris rode to his first win at Evangeline Downs in 1989 on a horse called Prospector's Tiger. This would be an experience he would never forget. But little did he know how good he would become from that point on and how his life would change.
Chris was riding at Delta Downs when he noticed his gallop boy had a gorgeous sister, and in a way only he could pull off, he told his gallop boy to bring her by the track. This beautiful girl's name was Kim, and they have now been married 17 years.
After riding in Louisiana for a few years, Chris decided to make the move to Chicago in 1996 so he could have a year-round base and spend time with his family. Chris has two kids, Hunter, 16, and Taylor, 13. On his off days, you can find Emigh attending his children's sporting events and just enjoying life.
In a sports world that is littered with infidelity and, unfortunately, criminal activity, how refreshing is it to see a man who puts his family first and foremost?
Chris's riding career speaks for itself. He's won nine jockey titles, including seven at Hawthorne Race Track, one at Arlington Park, and one at Delta Downs. Now many of you might be thinking that Delta Downs isn't a “major” track, but Chris beat out jockey Robby Albarado to win that meet.
He scored his first graded-stakes win in 1995 aboard Come On Flip in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup, shocking the tote board. Chris guided the gelding home, defeating the likes of Kissin Kris.
Chris has also had his taste of “Derby fever” when under his handling, Sierra Sunset cruised to a three-length victory in the 2008 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, defeating heavily favored Z Fortune. Unfortunately, the sun would set on Sierra Sunset and Emigh's Derby hopes when the colt was injured.
Now that Chris has made the move to Indiana, you can expect big things in his future.
He originally came to Indiana with the hopes of teaming up with longtime friend and trainer Scott Becker. Scott was unfortunately turned down for the needed amount of stalls, so Becker has only raced a handful of horses at Indiana Downs — two of them winning with Chris Emigh aboard. While just riding a couple of Becker- trained horses, Chris has still been making noise on his own. He rides at Indiana Downs during the week and travels to Arlington Park on Sundays. He also rides at Churchill Downs on Thursdays, when Indiana Downs is dark.
Chris will be moving his tack to Hoosier Park after Indiana Downs moves to harness racing.
So watch out for the Emigh/Becker combo when it hits Hoosier Park!
Why do fans of horse racing love it so much? Just take a look at Chris Emigh. Our stars like Chris are accessible. They are not bigger than the sport, they don't treat the fans like outsiders, and they embrace them.
Look all around our sport, and you will see it every day — whether it's a trainer or owner inviting a fan to the barn to check out the fan's favorite horse, or it's a jockey like Chris who takes the time out of his busy schedule to talk to an aspiring writer.
I love this sport because of the people. Our equine stars give us all they have and ask nothing in return, and so do our human stars. I feel honored to call Chris Emigh a friend and honored to be a part of this amazing sport.