By Mike Henry —-
OLDSMAR, FL. – Jose Ferrer wears his passion for Thoroughbred racing up front, where everyone can see it. Riding horses is second nature at this stage of his career, and although he occasionally talks about retirement, he is in no hurry to get to that particular finish line.
“I love this sport and I love to ride horses. Every time I see how much my kids and my wife enjoy seeing me ride, it’s a blessing from God,” said the 53-year-old Ferrer, who has been selected as the Señor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month.
“I enjoy myself out there,” said Ferrer, whose 25-percent strike rate (13-for-52) is the best for any Tampa Bay Downs jockey with 30 or more mounts. “I never was a rider to pick and choose a lot. I ride whatever comes, and I pretty much thank everybody for the opportunities.
“Whether it’s a $5,000 horse or a stakes horse, a horse is a horse and if you hire me to ride, I feel blessed, because when you think about it, how many guys my age are in a place where people hire you to compete and ride these horses?”
Getting back to that place represented one of the biggest challenges of Ferrer’s career after he was seriously injured on Sept. 14 in a multi-horse spill at Delaware Park, suffering a collapsed lung, eight fractured ribs and three fractured vertebrae. He spent a week in intensive care, and the most optimistic prognosis called for him to be able to return to riding in 4-to-6 months.
Even after leaving the ICU, Ferrer had a painstaking journey ahead.
“I was thinking maybe if he could ride a couple of horses toward the end of the meet and be ready for Monmouth (in May), we’d be in good shape,” said his agent, Steve Worsley.
For several days, Ferrer couldn’t walk more than a few steps before he needed to stop. “If someone called me, I was out of breath after 20 or 30 seconds – with a collapsed lung, I didn’t have the oxygen to have a full conversation,” he said.
Ferrer, who is devoted to physical fitness, took charge of his recovery. “I had the doctor put a note on the board in my room for a nurse to come by and walk me six times a day,” he said. “I had two tubes in my chest and was getting oxygen through my nose, and it was really tough, but I love this sport and I love to compete against the young kids and perform on the track.”
When he returned home to Tampa, Ferrer began working out at the gym in his house with light weights, gradually increasing his workload day by day. “I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, and being fit made a big difference” in his quick return, Ferrer said.
Ferrer returned to action at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1 and won a few days later with his third mount back, the Keith Nations-trained filly Jermyn Street. On Jan. 6, 4-year-old Jermyn Street and Ferrer rolled to another victory in the Fillies and Mares Division of the Tampa Turf Test.
In between those dates, he learned of his nomination as a finalist for the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which honors a rider whose career and personal character reflect positively on the individual and the sport. The other finalists are Javier Castellano, Alex Birzer, Joe Talamo and Rodney Prescott.
Jockeys across North America vote on the award, with the winner to be announced in February. “It took two days for that to sink in,” Ferrer said. “If I win it? It’s going to be awesome.”
Ferrer has more than 4,200 career victories, including 26 graded stakes. He lives a few miles from the racetrack with his wife Steffi and their sons: Derek, 3, and Joseph, who turns 2 on Jan. 18. “It’s a family effort, Steffi and the boys and the people around me,” Ferrer said. “A lot of people were praying for me, and I thank God I have all that support.”
Worsley marvels at his rider’s recuperative powers. “What has made (his comeback) possible is his hard work, dedication and his drive to want to come back,” Worsley said. “When you want something that bad and you’re willing to work hard for it, you’ll get it, eventually.”
Around the oval. Antonio Gallardo rode three winners today on a card in which the scheduled turf races were moved to the main track. It marked the fifth three-victory performance over the last eight racing days for Gallardo, who leads the Oldsmar standings with 30 victories.
Gallardo won the sixth race on Mighty Bite, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Ups and Downs Racing and trained by Monte Thomas. He added the ninth race on Koko Swag, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Windstorm Stable and trained by leading Oldsmar conditioner Kathleen O’Connell.
Gallardo and O’Connell swept the late daily double by winning the 10th race with Caitlin’satthebar, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by Stonehedge, LLC.
Samy Camacho rode two winners today. Camacho captured the fourth race on Flashndynamite, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by Rae Marie Smith and trained by Jose Chavez. Camacho added the eighth race on Unbridled Piper, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Gina Wright and trained by Michael W. Wright.
Chavez sent out two winners. In addition to Flashndynamite, the conditioner won the second race with Outstanding Gio, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Patricia Generazio and ridden by Carlos Lozada.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.