OLDSMAR — The dream of riding thoroughbreds began the second Ramon Dominguez saw his first race in Caracas, Venezuela. It ended in a New York minute.
Dominguez was atop the racing world in January 2013. He was coming off his third consecutive Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey, a third straight North American earnings title, and was named winner of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, given to the rider who demonstrates top standards of conduct presented by Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
But after 4,985 career wins and $191,615,697 in purse earnings, Dominguez's 21,267th mount would be his final one. In a Jan. 18 race at Aqueduct in Jamaica, N.Y., his horse Convocation clipped heels with a rival. Dominguez was sent to the dirt, kicked by another horse and sustained a traumatic brain injury. He was hospitalized three weeks, and announced his retirement four months later.
"It was the physicians' decision," Dominguez said. "(Riding) is something that will always be in my blood. I feel blessed and extremely fortunate to be able to have done it for as long as I did (19 years)."
Dominguez, 37, will be the featured speaker today at the inaugural Jockeys and Jeans fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund at Tampa Bay Downs (PDJF). Dominguez, a winner of three Breeders' Cup races, will be among 40 Hall of Fame riders and former greats in attendance. The roster includes Walter Blum, Diane Crump, Pat Day, Barbara Jo Rubin and Jacinto Vasquez.
Former Downs leading apprentice Mike Straight, who was paralyzed in a 2009 spill, and Eibar Coa, whose career ended following a 2011 fall, are among ex-riders to be honored.
Eddie Donnally, a Clearwater resident and former jockey who helped organize the event, said the fundraiser will take place in the paddock tent beginning at 11 a.m. with a luncheon. An auction featuring racing memorabilia and a photograph session follow with Dominguez speaking afterward. The public is invited and tickets can be purchased at the tent. For information, go to pdjf.org. An autograph session at 3 p.m. is slated in the grandstand.
"What makes this really different is that it is being organized by former jockeys for our fallen brothers and sisters," Donnally said. "It takes a lot of guts to ride a race horse, but it takes more guts to rebuild your life (following a catastrophic injury)."
Dominguez said he has been enjoying time with his wife Sharon and sons Alex, 9, and Matthew, 7, at their residence in Floral Park, N.Y.
"I have a couple of (employment) things in the works, and I love participating or helping in any capacity I can with PDJF," he said. "That's one way I am connected to the game."
DOGS: The $80,000 Distance Classic begins qualifying today at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10.