Afleet Alex and his young jockey, Jeremy Rose were the story of the 2005 Preakness. That the talented colt somehow managed to stay upright coming out of the far turn, before rolling to a strong win in racing’s Middle Jewel was nothing short of fantastic. The victorious pair were not the only story in the rather amazing developments of that Preakness, though. Minutes after the race I felt for the “other” rider. Ramon Dominguez had just finished second in the biggest race of his life, yet there was no hope for celebration. Widely criticized for his tactics aboard Scrappy T, the young rider handled the very difficult situation with grace.
28-years-old at the time, Dominguez was not a household name. The native Venezuelan was certainly dominant in the Mid-Atlantic region, but to racing’s biggest markets, he was still a bit of an unknown. When his long shot mount in the Preakness forged to the lead, that thrill was immediately replaced with terror. A strong left handed whip spinning out of the turn turned out to be the last thing Scrappy T wanted. In a split-second, that seemed to drag on for moments, Dominguez’s charge bolted to the outside. A stunned Dominguez nearly fell of his mount. Worse yet, Scrappy T banged into the rallying favorite, Afleet Alex. Miraculously, Afleet Alex and Jeremy Rose both stayed in the race after those first few strides, and the decision was never in doubt from there.
As for Dominguez, it was clear he was worried about his competition. His actions demonstrated a rider that was more concerned that Afleet Alex and Rose were unharmed, rather than actually getting to the wire first. Once he got back to riding his mount, Scrappy T finished a clear second, without being pushed by his jockey.
I immediately was impressed with the rider. New to this kind of spotlight, Dominguez was nothing but apologetic in his non-native language. Honestly, I never thought the incident was his fault. He was blamed by many -- but sometimes horses just do the unexpected. Dominguez explained that he felt like his charge was looking around (likely due to the large Pimlico crowd), and that the horse’s reaction to the whip completely caught him off guard. The words were what they needed to be, but watching it all on television, I was struck by the sincerity of just how badly he felt.
Eight years later, Dominguez is as fine a rider as there is out there. Numerous riding titles, a trifecta of Eclipse Awards, and national money titles proves that.
Today’s announcement, that the riding accident he was injured in this winter will not allow him to ride again, has left the racing community universally saddened.
When discussing the best riders so far of the 21st century, it’s debatable as to which has been the very best. What’s not debatable is that Ramon Dominguez is one of those that needs to be at the top of the list. Just as importantly, he did it all with class. Class that I first saw back on the afternoon when Afleet Alex became a racing hero.
The American racing colony is not quite as good as it was yesterday in more ways than one. Best wishes to him and the entire Dominguez family as he embarks on the next stage of his life. Somehow, I think his future will not be too far removed from the race track.