Joe Rocco Jr.
rode his 1,000th winner aboard Rustler Hustler in
Thursday’s ninth race at Gulfstream Park, where he returned to the
winner’s circle to celebrate his career milestone with his family.
“I’m a little embarrassed that it’s taken me that long because I’ve
been riding so long,” said Rocco, who rode his first winner at Tampa Bay
Downs on Feb. 2, 1999 aboard his very first mount, Rainbow’s Raja. “But
it does mean a lot.”
Although he was hardly reveling in his achievement, it clearly meant
a lot to the subdued 30-year-old jockey to share the moment with his
wife, Jamie, and two sons, Brodie, 4, and Luke, 1.
“I stood in my own way for so long. At the time, I didn’t realize
it. Looking back on it now, having grown up and matured as a person, I
can say now that I definitely stopped myself for at least the first five
years of my career by making bad decisions,” Rocco said. “Since I’ve
been with my wife and we’ve had kids, it makes you think differently and
gives you a reason to go out and do it.”
Rocco, who also rode the winners of the first race (Go Go Lolo) and
the 10th race (Success Rate), was also thinking of his father, who has
been his lifelong inspiration. Joe Rocco, who was back home in Delaware,
set a high standard for his son by riding 3,714 winners during a
34-year-old career that concluded in 2011.
“He’s everything. I grew up wanting to be just like him,” said the
younger Rocco, who had ridden on occasion against his father in the
Mid-Atlantic region. “Being a jockey is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Rocco enjoyed a breakthrough meeting at Gulfstream Park last season.
After capturing the 2011 riding title at Delaware Park with 94 wins, 20
more than his nearest rival, he opted to ride fulltime at Gulfstream
for the first time, ranking seventh in the standings with 45 trips to
the winner’s circle.
Rocco enjoyed the most productive year of his career last year,
capping the 2012 season by finishing fourth during Churchill Downs’ fall
meeting before returning to Gulfstream for the current meeting. He is
planning on returning to Kentucky upon the conclusion of the Gulfstream
Rocco, who rode Hard Not to Like for a victory in the $100,000
Marshua’s River (G3) on Jan. 5, currently ranks sixth in the Gulfstream
jockey’s standings with 21 wins.