This isn't about proving himself because Mark Guidry already did that.
He did it during the 5,043 trips to the winner's circle over a 33-year-span, and he did it every time he added to his résumé races like the Kentucky Oaks.
The reason the 52-year-old jockey finds himself back in the starting gate is he was never quite as comfortable anywhere else as he was when in the saddle. After nearly four years away from racing, Guidry couldn't ignore that any longer.
On Nov. 10, 2007, at Churchill Downs, Guidry pulled off his silks for what he thought was the last time when he decided to retire from riding after three-plus decades of highs, lows and overall burnout.
In August, however, the Louisiana native ended his self-imposed hiatus and relaunched his career at Ellis Park, and he has continued his comeback at Keeneland against one of the nation's toughest jockey colonies.
Though Guidry laughs that some of the younger jockeys "don't know who the hell I am," his accomplishments are notable. Included with his 5,043 victories are numerous meet titles at Hawthorne, Arlington Park and Churchill Downs as well as wins in such prestigious contests as the 2006 Kentucky Oaks aboard long shot Lemons Forever, the 2005 Santa Anita Derby, and the Humana Distaff and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, both in 2002.
The years of mental and physical demands convinced Guidry he was doing the right thing by walking away. As he tried his hand at training horses the past couple seasons — and even took classes to become a steward — he realized he wasn't ready to stay away.
"I think it was last winter, I was training horses at the Fair Grounds and I was around (jockey) Robby (Albarado) and a lot of the boys, watching them ride on an everyday basis, and from there I just started getting the itch," Guidry said. "I guess everything just kind of started bubbling for me inside and I said, 'You know what, let me try this.'
"I applied for a stewards job in Shreveport this past summer which I didn't get, so I sat around for a couple months not doing anything, and I said, 'I've got to do something, I'm just going nuts.' The only thing I basically do know how to do is ride. So here we are."
Guidry was respected for his fair but aggressive style in the saddle and his leadership in the jock's room. The latter hasn't changed, but it has proven a challenge getting back his fitness and timing. That should only get better with more mounts.
Among those pushing the veteran rider the hardest is trainer Dale Romans, for whom Guidry worked for as an assistant in May. If it were up to Romans, Guidry wouldn't have gotten off horses, so he had no problem using him on a dozen or so horses in the mornings this summer as Guidry worked to get his weight back down.
"He's always been a top rider and ... I didn't want to lose him in the first place," Romans said. "He rode all my horses for several years at the end of his career. I think it's taken him a little while to get it all back together, but I thought the last few races he looked like his old self."
Time away from riding not only helped refresh Guidry's mind and body, it also gave him a different perspective.
After winning the first time out as a trainer with a horse he conditioned for his brother-in-law, Guidry said he thought he had found something he could easily master.
"I got lucky and won my first race as a trainer and ... it was kind of like the kiss of death for me," Guidry said. "I have different respect for the game and trainers as far as what they have to go through on a daily basis. Anything that is done to that horse, they're going to get billed for it."
Guidry did have moderate success, saddling 30 winners from 301 starters, but the financial strain of the job and all-around pressure of trying to get good stock produced a hard dose of reality.
All that time rubbing legs proved invaluable in another way, though. Not only does Guidry know firsthand how important it can be to ride hard for third and fourth money, but information he can impart to trainers now carries more weight.
"There are a lot of riders who can really ride but I don't think are top horseman, and Mark is a good horseman," said trainer Tom Proctor, who gave Guidry the mount on the mare Snow Top Mountain when he earned his first stakes win since his comeback in the Kentucky Cup Ladies' Turf Stakes at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 10. "He actually did well training horses. I think he just had a little trouble getting some of his clients to pay. The business aspect of it is not pretty. (Wearing) White pants is a lot easier than paying bills."
Slowly, the Guidry who has won more than 250 stakes races seems to be resurfacing. He had seven wins from 63 mounts through Monday, and on the days he is particularly rough on himself, he takes solace in the welcoming atmosphere old comrades like Calvin Borel, Corey Lanerie and Jon Court help generate.
"I had a lot of mixed emotions when I came back. I didn't know how I was going to be received by the other riders," Guidry said. "A lot has changed. You have a lot of riders who I haven't even seen before. But the old guys ... they made it real easy coming back. They always have a way of saying things that make you feel good. It was like I was home."
Guidry plans to ride at the Churchill Downs meet after Keeneland, but he isn't making long-range plans beyond that. He still has dreams of winning a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race, but if that doesn't happen, he knows he's already proven his worth.
"I'm never going to put a time frame on myself again. That's what I did before I retired, and it was the worst thing I ever did," he said. "I thought because I said for the last year what I was going to do, I had to stick to it, and I don't like that.
"I'm going day by day. Whether it's five years, 10 years or two years, I don't know. I'm going to put it in God's hands and see how it comes out."