Saturday, December 23, 2006 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . December 23, 2006 . . . Veteran jockey Perry Ouzts will return to racing on Tuesday at Turfway Park almost 11 months to the day from an on-track accident left him with a compound fracture of the right forearm and five fractured vertebrae. He is named on three mounts on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, and four on Thursday.
With 4,902 wins in the books, the 52-year-old Ouzts has his eye on 5,000, a number just a handful of jockeys have reached. That goal brought him back to the job he has loved since his first race in 1973.
"I want to get to 5,000," Ouzts said during a visit to Turfway Saturday afternoon. "Probably if I already had 5,000, I might not care if I came back or not. I might say, 'Well, it's been a good career,' and walk away. But I'm too close to quit now. Out of the thousands and thousands of guys that have ridden over the last hundred years or so, there's only very few that's ever done that, and I want to be one of them."
Ouzts was aboard Finders Chance in Turfway's second race on January 29, 2006, when the horse suddenly fell near the quarter-pole. The horse was not injured but the fall pitched Ouzts to the track. He originally expected to be out about eight weeks, but time and further tests revealed the extent of his injuries. After three surgeries and nine months of therapy, Ouzts began exercising horses in November.
"I've been getting on horses in the morning about six weeks now, and it's been great," he said. "The first one I got on, it was cold, pouring rain, and I was grinning from ear to ear. In 33 years of riding, before this, I've never been off more than two months at a time."
Ouzts said he would look for the 5,000 mark this summer at River Downs if all goes well, or maybe at Turfway Park later in the year. Asked whether he would then retire, Ouzts paused, grinned, and said, "Probably not. It's the winning. You can't put it into words, what it feels like to win."
Ouzts grew up in Rivervale, Arkansas, riding horses with his cousin, Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires. He holds 11 meet titles at Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio, and a record 18 titles at Cincinnati's River Downs, which released a Perry Ouzts bobblehead in his honor this past July. Ouzts ended 2005 with top 10 finishes in each of Turfway's three meets and was ranked 35th nationally by number of wins.
Running its usual Christmas schedule, Turfway is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and then opens for live racing from Tuesday, December 26, through Monday, January 1, with first post at 1:10 p.m. each day.