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Submitted by John Conte on Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Ramon Dominguez retires as jockey due to injuries from spill

ELMONT, N.Y. – Advised by doctors that another spill could do more serious damage to him, jockey Ramon Dominguez on Thursday announced his retirement from riding.

Dominguez, 36, made the announcement via a statement released through the New York Racing Association. The decision comes less than five months after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a spill at Aqueduct and a week after he met with his trio of physicians.

“Riding Thoroughbreds has always been my passion and my calling,” Dominguez’s statement read. “When I was 13 and watched my first horse race in Venezuela, I knew that I would become a jockey, and my riding 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 the injuries I sustained in an accident at Aqueduct Racetrack on January 18, 2013, my professional riding career has come to an end. While I hoped and even expected to be able to return to the saddle, as a result of my injuries and upon the advice of my treating physicians, it has been determined that I will no longer be able to pursue my career as a jockey.”

Dominguez’s statement further read that he is “not ready to speak publicly” but will do so at a later time.

Though Dominguez didn’t specifically address his physical well-being in the press release, his agent of 13 years, Steve Rushing, said Dominguez is doing well, but doctors feared he could not withstand another spill.

“He’s doing great, there’s just a fear if he falls and bangs his head again that it’s not going to take much to reinjure it,” said Rushing, who had dinner with Dominguez and his family Wednesday night. “There’s too much of a risk to go back to such a dangerous job.”

Rushing, who notified horsemen of Dominguez’s decision Thursday, said the jockey’s retirement is a big loss to the industry.

“He’s a world-class rider, but he’s even a better person,” Rushing said. “It’s just devastating to lose someone like that in our industry.”

That sentiment was echoed by many horsemen on the Belmont backstretch Thursday morning.

“It’s very sad,” Todd Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, said. “A guy at the absolute top of his career; it shows you how dangerous it is. Not only a talented rider, but a terrific person.”

“I don’t know if there’s a position in New York, but he certainly would be one of the best ambassadors the sport could have,” said trainer David Donk, at whose home Dominguez watched last weekend’s Belmont Stakes.

Dominguez was in the prime of his career, having won the last three Eclipse Awards as North America’s top rider. In 2012, he set a single-year record for purse earnings with $25,582,252. He was on the cusp of reaching the 5,000-win plateau.

Dominguez, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, retires with 4,985 wins, which ranks him 29th all-time, and with $191,615,698 in purse money won, placing him 14th.

“Ramon’s record as a rider speaks for itself, but being in the jockeys’ room with him for the past several years, he’s one of the most well-mannered, genuinely nice guys you’ll ever meet,” jockey Rajiv Maragh said. “A true competitor, but he always tried to help his peers.

“It’s really sad to hear that,” Maragh added. “Over the past couple of months, I’ve talked to him a few times, seeing how he was doing, and to me it seemed like he was progressing really well. I was really looking forward to having him in the jockeys’ room.”

Dominguez was injured on Jan. 18 at Aqueduct, when his mount, Convocation, clipped heels with a horse in front of him. Dominguez was thrown to the hard Aqueduct inner dirt track and was clipped from behind by a trailing horse.

Dominguez spent almost three weeks in a trio of hospitals, the last being the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., from which he was released Feb. 6. Dominguez has continued to undergo extensive physical and occupational therapy since being released from the hospital.

Dominguez is married, and he and his wife Sharon have two young sons, Alexander, 8, and Matthew, 6.

Dominguez, who came to the United States in 1995, quickly became the dominant rider in the Mid-Atlantic region. He won three meet riding titles at Laurel Park (2000-01), two meet titles at Pimlico in 2001, and was the leading rider at Delaware Park from 2004-07. Dominguez moved his tack permanently to New York in 2008 and was the New York Racing Association’s leading rider from 2009-12, winning 20 individual meet titles including Saratoga in 2009 and 2012. His 376 wins on the NYRA circuit in 2009 were the most on this circuit since Steve Cauthen won 422 in 1977.

Dominguez did not win a Triple Crown race, finishing second in the 2006 Kentucky Derby on Bluegrass Cat, second in the 2004 Preakness on Scrappy T, and third in the 2010 Belmont on First Dude.

Dominguez won three Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2004 Turf on Better Talk Now, the 2011 Juvenile on Hansen, and the 2012 Turf on Little Mike.

In 2012, Dominguez was named winner of the George Woolf Award, given out by Santa Anita and voted on by fellow riders. The award is presented to jockeys who demonstrate high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.

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