Sunday, February 8, 2004 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . February 8, 2004 . . . Veteran jockey Perry Ouzts posed for his 4,500th win photo this afternoon at Turfway Park after riding Private Ambition to a 1 3/4-length victory in the third race, a $5,000 claiming event. Though the track was muddy, Ouzts’ blue-and-yellow silks were spotless, reflecting the jockey’s reputation for getting out of the gate in a hurry and the four-year-old gelding’s penchant for the lead.
“Winning,” Ouzts said, summing up in one word what he most enjoys about riding after 31 years in the saddle. “It’s been a lot of work, but I still enjoy it—well, on a day like this you don’t enjoy working too much. And especially the other day with Mike [Rowland]. That hits pretty close to home.”
Rowland was critically injured in a three-horse accident at Turfway last Wednesday and remains hospitalized at University Hospital in Cincinnati. He was close to his 4,000th win when the accident occurred.
“Mike and I were both working on it,” Ouzts said of Rowland. “We were both getting excited about getting close to a milestone. He lacked two wins, I lacked one. We’re back in the same corner of the jocks’ room, got the same valet, got the same agent. I’ve known him for 20 years. We’re really good friends. It hurts—a lot.”
An Arkansas native, Ouzts, 49, grew up riding horses with his cousin, Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires. He was 18 years old when he started his professional career at Ohio’s Beulah Park in 1973 and has consistently been among the leaders on the Ohio circuit ever since. He has been the leading rider at River Downs an unprecedented 18 times and has won 11 titles at Beulah. He rode for years at Turfway when it was called Latonia, and twice was second-leading rider. He returned to Turfway in 2003 and finished 10th in the standings despite appearing in just six races during the 22-day Fall Meet. He ranked 37th by wins among jockeys nationwide for 2003.
“You have a picture in your mind of how you’d like the race to develop,” Ouzts said, explaining how he prepares for each start. “You look at the horse’s form, where he likes to lay when he runs good. But it very seldom happens just like that. When the gates open up you just take it from there.”
Describing his win aboard Private Ambition, Ouzts said, “That horse [Neenamusha, second, Rafael Bejarano up] came up to him pretty good about the eighth pole. But when I rode Private Ambition last time, I did the same thing. I shot him out of the gate pretty hard. He acted like it built his heart up, getting the lead quick like that.” Private Ambition is owned by Skipper Cheesman and trained by Steven Cahill.
Ouzts reached the 4,000-win milestone in 2001. Asked about the future, Ouzts said, “My goal right now is to hit 5,000 and then we’ll go from there.”