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Kentucky Derby 2012: Ramon Dominguez, Venezuelan Jockey, On Horse Racing And His Latino Roots

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You may know that horse-racing is a multi-billion dollar industry. But what you probably don't know is that the number one athlete in that sport is Latino!

Venezuelan-born jockey Ramon Dominguez is currently the leading Thoroughbred Horseracing Jockey in the United States. Last month alone, Ramon won a $400,000 purse in a Kentucky Derby Prep Race and in the last two years, he's been awarded numerous prizes -- he’s won the coveted Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey of the Year (which is like The Oscars of horse-racing) and he recently won the 2012 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award , which honors a rider whose career and personal character best represents the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing. On top of that, Ramon rates #1 in the country in National Jockey earnings.

With the 2012 Kentucky Derby taking place this weekend, we spoke with the award-winning athlete about his exceptional career, his Latino roots, and his plans to continue racing horses well into his 50s!

Tell us about your Latino roots!

I am from Venezuela. I came to the United States in 1996 when I was 19.

When you got to the United States, did you struggle to adapt to the culture?
No, it was a very easy transition. Everything goes so smoothly here and the U.S., has so many things to offer that I was captivated by the whole system and how everything was run. It didn't take long at all for me to adapt to the system here.

Did you know English when you arrived in the U.S., or did you learn it here?

I learned it here.

Was the fact that you weren't fluent an obstacle for you in your career?
It was. I realized right away that not knowing English was going to be a big obstacle, so I was pretty determined to learn the language and within a short amount of time I was at least able to talk back and forth to the trainers. The most important thing for me was to be able to give them feedback and to understand the instructions. After a year, I was doing pretty well.

If it wasn't for your career as a jockey, would you have come to the U.S.?
Probably not. Of course now after being here for so long, I can't imagine not living here. I mean, this is home for me. But it probably would have been difficult for me to come here if it wasn't for being a jockey.

When did you know horse-racing was what you wanted to do with your life?
My dad used to work for a racetrack -- he had an off-track betting facility and people would go there to gamble. But on the weekends, he had to take the machine back to the racetrack and I went with him one day. I was probably 13 or 14 years old when I watched a live race and fell in love with the sport. I knew right then and there that this is what I wanted to do. I just fell in love with the animal.

What do you love most about your profession?
I think that horses are the most amazing animals and being on top of them and interacting with them -- everything about it I still love. That's really what drives me and what keeps me motivated to do this. I absolutely love everything about horse-riding!

When did you actually begin your career as a jockey?
I was 18 in Venezuela when I started riding races, but prior to that I was getting on horses and learning the trade for about two or three years.

Do you ever go back to Venezuela to race?
No, I haven't. Since I came to the U.S., I have gone back to visit my family, but not to race. It's pretty long hours here and the schedule here is pretty tiring -- you have to race at least five days a week, so there's very little time to spare.

Are there a lot of highly ranked Latino jockeys in the U.S?

Yes, there are definitely a lot of Latinos for sure! They are from all different cultures. We have a lot of Puerto Ricans and right now we have quite a few Venezuelans.

Do you feel like you're representing Latinos in the sport?
I mean, I wouldn't put that weight on my shoulders. But I do know that whether we know it or not, we are in the public eye and so it's important that we conduct ourselves well. I'm happy with the way things are going in my career and I am able to put my head on the pillow every night and sleep knowing that I'm doing the best I can. There's nothing I regret about the way I conduct myself or the way my career has gone.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
It's hard to really single out one thing, but winning the George Woolf Award was special because the voting is done by your peers and you're being judged on your personal character, as well as your achievement out on the tracks.

We know you have two sons. Would you want your boys to do what you do for a living?

Honestly, if I had a choice, no. It's a profession that has a risk factor involved that is pretty high. And as a parent you want the best for your kids and you want to keep them safe. Just like my parents wanted me to go to school and become a professional, I would love something else for them. But then again, if they are as happy as I am doing it -- of course I will be very supportive.

Will you be racing at the 2012 Kentucky Derby this Saturday?
Yes! [I’m] very excited!

You're 35. How many more years do you plan on racing professionally?
I'm assuming that in their 40s most people retire. But it all depends on how well you take care of your body and how good the business is as far as getting the support that you need to win the race. You can still continue to do this in a pretty consistent manner into your fifties. I would love to {do that}.

See Photos of Ramon Dominguez In Action!

Ramon Dominguez In Action
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