As word trickled out Thursday that jockey Ramon Dominguez was retiring from riding, heavy doses of sadness and gratitude poured in from the horse racing community.
Dominguez was forced to retire at age 36 because of injuries he sustained during a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18.
The accident took place one day before he won his third straight Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey. Dominguez fractured his skull.
Dominguez said that upon advice from physicians "it has been determined that I will no longer be able to pursue my career as a jockey."
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"Riding Thoroughbreds has always been my passion and my calling," the jockey continued in a statement released by the New York Racing Association. "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."
Dominguez thanked fans, friends and fellow horsemen for their support. Dominguez retires with 4,985 victories from 21,267 mounts and career earnings of $191,615,698.
Known for his classy demeanor as much as his aptitude in the saddle, Dominguez was honored with the 2012 George Woolf Award. The honor goes to one rider each year whose career and character earn esteem for the individual and the sport.
"He always had his horse in the right position, he knew where he was in the race at all times and he just seemed to get the most out of (his mounts)," said Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans. "It's a shame because he was right at the front of his career. His best days were still ahead of him."
Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said, "He is destined for Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame."
In 2001 and 2003. Dominguez led all U.S. jockeys in wins. He scored his first Grade I win aboard A Huevo in the 2003 De Francis Dash. One year later, he celebrated his first Breeders' Cup win when he guided Better Talk Now to an upset in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
In 2012, Dominguez rode Little Mike to victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf and set a single-year record for earnings with $25,582,252. The previous year, Dominguez was the regular rider of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.
"I hate it, but believe me it could be a lot worse for him," said Larry Jones, who trained Havre de Grace. "At least he is walking and hopefully this is something he will still recover from. Maybe like Gary Stevens ... seven years from now he decides, 'Hey, I can try this again.' Those of us who are selfish and in the business, the greedy part of me hopes that will be the case. But hopefully if he can't come back to riding, he will find something that is fulfilling for him."