Sunday, January 5, 2014

Quincy Hamilton, Jockey

As the son of a champion Quarter Horse jockey, Tampa Bay Downs newcomer Quincy Hamilton might have been expected to ride before he could walk. But the Jasper, Texas native resented racing as a young boy because it meant his father, John Hamilton, was away from home most of the time. After his parents divorced, Quincy’s mother married a crane operator, and a succession of promotions for his stepfather resulted in Quincy attending 12 different schools. It wasn’t until he entered high school and moved with his father to Houston that Quincy caught the riding bug, and it has never let go. “On my days off I would drive him around to work horses at different farms, and he talked me into getting on a couple,” Quincy says. “Really, since then, my father and I have pretty much been best friends.” With help from his veteran agent, Doug Davis, Hamilton has made a strong early impression locally, with four victories and 14 in-the-money finishes. Hamilton – a four-time riding champ at Sam Houston who has ridden 1,370 winners since capturing his first victory there in 2003, and who compiled mount earnings of more than $3-million three consecutive years, from 2005-07 – shares some thoughts on a jockey’s life and his relationship with his wife, Mandy, and their children: Emma, 8, and Carter, 6.

MANDY IS THE DAUGHTER OF A VERY SUCCESSFUL Midwestern-based trainer, Moises Yanez. She raises our kids just like they were her own, and they love her like she was their mother. It’s a perfect match. When Mandy and I got together four years ago, after my divorce, I was very hesitant to ask her to raise my kids and move around the country with us. I never had to ask. I could never have imagined somebody could take that love into their heart for my kids. It has been a huge blessing. She understands the racetrack and how it can be stressful moving around the country. She has been right there by my side the whole time.

I’M ONLY 30, BUT WHEN YOU HAVE A FAMILY it’s natural to think about settling down. That’s why I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to ride in Florida year-round. We have a place in Ocala where Mandy’s mom lives, and she helps her mom at the farm. They probably have 60 head there. Her mom, “Boots” – that’s what everybody calls her – is the brains of the operation. She breeds the mares and sends them to Chicago (to qualify as Illinois-breds) and breaks the babies to send to my father-in-law to train. Besides working at the farm, Mandy is in cosmetology school. She wants to have her own salon, and hopefully one day we can make that happen for her.

COMING TO TAMPA BAY DOWNS HASN’T SEEMED like too big an adjustment. It is like the type of racing I experienced early in my career at Sam Houston in Texas and Remington Park in Oklahoma, which I called home the first five years of my career. Both track surfaces here seem to fit my riding style, so you just kind of roll with the punches. Everybody has been welcoming, the jockeys here are good to ride with and the trainers have shown some interest. My agent, Doug Davis, is a hard worker, and I’m excited about going forward with him.

THERE AREN’T TOO MANY SIMILARITIES IN STYLE between a Quarter Horse rider and a Thoroughbred jockey, but my father and I are pretty alike. He put it in my brain that if you can’t outride them, you have to outwork them, and I feel if I’m not out every day hustling for myself, I’m not going to be as successful as I want to be. And he helped me realize if you aren’t out there every day, horsemen are going to forget you. I have a quick reaction out of the gate, and I credit that to learning how to break with my dad.

IN THE YOUNGER YEARS OF MY CAREER (I’m sure the guys in their 40s love me saying that!), weight was never really an issue. But since I started inching closer to 30, it seems I have to try a little harder. You might see me jogging around the track between working horses in the morning and riding races. I’ll jog anywhere from 3-to-5 miles, five days a week, to try to sweat off a few pounds. My diet was awful when I was younger, but I’m learning to eat right. Fresh fruit was never anything I was into before, but Mandy has been finding new recipes for smoothies and stuff to keep me eating healthy and enjoying it.

THE FIRST THING I DO BEFORE A RACE is evaluate my horse’s demeanor in the paddock. As soon as you hit their back, you have to find out whether you need to get them to relax as much as possible, or if you’re going to try to get them geared up. With 10 minutes between the paddock and the starting gate, you don’t want them wound up that whole time because they’ll spend their race. A horse feeds off your energy, and I feel that if I’m quiet at the right times and dynamic when it counts, that is the right combination. When the race starts, the horse will let you know for the most part where they are comfortable running. I always try to keep my horse happy.

I’VE BEEN BLESSED NOT HAVING TO TAKE OFF MAJOR TIME due to injuries, but I expected the worst the first time I galloped a horse when I was 16 back in Texas. The track had a 3/8-mile chute with a ½-mile oval, and I was riding a horse that had been around the track a million times, and my dad was on the pony next to me. All of a sudden, my horse was laying on the pony and my leg was getting sucked underneath the horse, so I told my dad he had to cut me loose, that I wasn’t going to make it. He cut me loose, and my horse got around there real nice and easy – the first circle.

MY HORSE STARTED PICKING UP SPEED THE SECOND TIME AROUND, and by the third time around he was running off with me. At this point, I’m like a noodle. My dad, who is an excellent pony rider, decides he is going to catch me. I see him turned sideways in the middle of the track that is not as wide as this room, and here I come. I think I am going to T-bone him when my dad picks up speed, but as soon as he reaches out, my horse hits the brakes and I go over his head and land under the pony. The pony stomps me nearly to death and my face is bloody, but I was more scared of my dad being mad at me for the horse getting loose and running around the track.

THEY CAUGHT THE HORSE AND BROUGHT HIM BACK TO ME to gallop him around there again. By now, I was sure he was tired, but I guess I was so tense and nervous that when I hit his back, he took off running – going the wrong way this time. When he sees the chute where he is supposed to go home, he ducks down toward the gap and throws me over the fence. I was more mad than hurt, but when I got back to the barn everyone thought it was hilarious. My ribs were sore and I was limping, but when they brought out another one for me to ride, my pride took over. This time it went smooth as butter, and ever since then I figure it can’t be as bad as my first ride.

IF I WASN’T A JOCKEY? I probably would be working at a McDonald’s drive-in. I don’t really have many other talents. I love cars, and I work on a few hot rods and a few boats, but other than horse racing I don’t really have many other passions.

I HAVE MY KIDS’ INITIALS TATTOOED ON MY ARMS and my anniversary tattooed on my wrist, but I guess the tattoos on my back are the most unique. My son Carter’s footprints are on the left side of my back, and daughter Emma’s are down the right side. They are taken from their birth certificates, and there are four feet on each side so it looks like they are walking. I had them all done at the same time. I just wanted to show off how proud I am of my children, and it remains the same. I never get tired of showing them off and I never get tired of talking about them.


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