Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mark Guidry, Jockey

When jockey Mark Guidry retired at 48 after the 2007 fall meeting at Churchill Downs, his accomplishments included 5,043 victories, more than $100 million in purses, about two dozen riding titles (mostly in the Midwest) and wins in such prestigious races as the Kentucky Oaks and Santa Anita Derby. The Lafayette, La. native also won the 2006 George Woolf Award – presented annually to a rider whose career and personal character earn esteem for himself and the sport of Thoroughbred racing – both for his feats in the saddle and his efforts assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina in his home state. After hanging up his tack, Guidry tried to get a job as a racing official and worked as a trainer, but when he began exercising horses last year for trainer Dale Romans, he regained the urge to compete. After launching his comeback last summer at Ellis Park, Guidry soon won a stakes at Kentucky Downs aboard Snow Top Mountain for trainer Tom Proctor – proof four years had done little to dull his skill and instincts. At Tampa Bay Downs, he currently is eighth in the standings with 10 victories and has finished first or second with 41.3 percent of his mounts. Guidry and his wife Tina have three grown children: sons Marcus and Mecus and daughter Fallon.
My biggest fear about coming back was I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I don’t think that fear has evaporated yet, I really don’t. I didn’t want to deflate anything that I have accomplished in my career. That was the No. 1 thing.
I’ve always been my worst critic. I don’t blame nobody but myself when I don’t win a race. I don’t blame the other riders, because I feel like I should have known better, maybe put myself in a better position. Whatever happens, I’ve got the reins. I’ve got control. So nobody has to be hard on me because there ain’t nobody harder on me than I am on myself.
The last couple of years before I retired, I was at a point where maybe I was burned out after riding for 32 years. It seemed like every time I talked to a trainer after a race about how things went, I was defending myself, defending my actions. Now, it’s not like that.
I think I’m more competitive now than I was before I retired. I’m feeling real good, so we’re just going to go as long as we can.  I’m going day by day, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities everyone is giving me.
When I came back at Ellis Park in August, it was kind of like having the bug again. I didn’t know what kind of response I was going to get; heck, I didn’t know how many of the riders knew who I was. But I was always comfortable around my peers and they made it really cool. Like Jon Court, he said ‘Gid, it’s so nice to have you in here.’ Corey Lanerie, Little Brian (Hernandez), Calvin (Borel), it was basically all my homeboys from Louisiana, and Jon Court. They helped to pick me up.It’s taken me a long time to get fit, maybe because I’m 52. It’s been a grind, and there have been a few times when I got disgusted with running a lot of seconds. But I just tell myself how much I’ve had to dedicate to get where I am right now. When I started galloping for Dale Romans at Churchill, I was getting on 10 or 11 in the mornings, coming down from 152 pounds, so it was tough, but I was enjoying it.
I rode in that race for retired jockeys at Arlington and didn’t do any good, but that was my platform on my comeback. It’s been slow, but it’s been good. Tom Proctor’s been really good to me since I’ve been back. He told me ‘take it easy, take it easy, it’s going to come.’ Like with Dale Romans, I’ve got a real good relationship with Tom outside of racing, so if he’s got something on his mind he lets me know, and the same for me.
Getting the George Woolf Award was my biggest accomplishment. I never even dreamed it was possible because it is so prestigious, and knowing my peers voted for me made it even more meaningful. I was riding in Chicago the summer when Katrina hit, and myself and a couple of other riders were torn up seeing the devastation in our state and not being able to do anything about it.
We decided we were going to start collections for the victims, and I organized our relief efforts at Arlington Park – food, money, clothing for all the little kids. A lot of what we did was just horsemen helping horsemen. My mother, who passed away in October, did a lot of relief work back home through the Catholic Church. When we got everything together in Chicago, I drove the truck to Louisiana and helped distribute the supplies.
To get an award like the George Woolf for doing something you believe in, it was cool and it helped out a whole lot. But it was doing something for the people I felt for. I would have done it for others as well.
I’d shipped in here to Tampa Bay Downs a few times in past years and won some races. In 2003, I won the Florida Oaks for George Steinbrenner and Billy Mott on a filly named Ebony Breeze. But I’d never been here before for an extended stay. I really love it – it’s laid-back, the weather is beautiful and I play golf with my friends here.
It’s a strong jockey colony. There are a lot of seasoned riders here like Ronnie Allen Jr., Jesse Garcia, now we have Scott Spieth here. Leandro (Goncalves) is a good rider and Willie (Martinez) will get the job done. Rosemary (Homeister Jr.) is always competitive, always consistent. Pablo Morales, I admire his style. I think he is going to be an up-and-coming rider.
Just like anywhere else, there are going to be a few riders who aren’t bad, they just aren’t seasoned. Some older riders don’t take the time to talk to the younger jockeys and try to make them better, but if I see a young kid needs a couple of things straightened out, I’m quick to do it. If I’m riding with him, I’m going to keep him aware of his mistakes to make it safer for myself and the rest of the riders. You want to ride safely. That’s No. 1.
My hat is off to all the trainers. That is probably the hardest gig they got on the backside. Dealing with the owners, the help, getting paid on time so they can pay everybody else. I won about 30 races training, but I found out it’s just really, really tough. Sometimes when I was riding and I’d get beat for third, I didn’t really think too much about it, but I found out for the trainers that could be a guy’s only percentage for the month. I’ve got a whole different outlook on the training part of it now.
I’m getting inducted this summer into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, which is a big thrill. People always ask me why so many top jockeys seem to come from Louisiana. Well, in my era and with the guys older than me – Eddie D. (Delahoussaye), Randy Romero, Craig Perret, Ray Sibille, Ronald Ardoin – we had so many opportunities.
I was riding show horses when I was 4, so being on a horse was just natural. We didn’t have no bicycles. We just rode our horses in the ditch wherever we wanted to go, so it was pretty cool. It was a great, great upbringing.
I really miss those days. We had six or seven bush tracks running on any given Sunday. Heck, I was riding match races when I was 9 and anything went. My momma didn’t want me to ride, so we didn’t tell her. She didn’t know about it until I broke my wrist when I was 10 ½. I walked through the door holding my wrist, and my dad had to tell her. I’ve got five sisters and I was the only son, so momma kind of babied me, God bless her.
But the big thing was, we had a whole lot of chances. And horsemen didn’t just put you up on a horse right away. You learned the game first. You cleaned the stalls, put on the wraps, did everything to get the horse ready. They taught you to be a horseman first and a jockey second, and that helped all of us tremendously. That training helped a young jockey in knowing where a young horse was hurting or whatever, because we had been riding five or six years already.
I’ve ridden a lot of great horses in my career – Black Tie Affair, Buck’s Boy, Perfect Drift, Balto Star, Roses in May, Offlee Wild, Meafara, Buzzard’s Bay – the list goes on and on. I rode my 5,000th winner for D. Wayne Lukas. I tell you what, he’s one of the biggest motivators you’ll find. You’d be on one of his horses that was 30-1, didn’t fit a race whatsoever and he’d tell you ‘This horse is doing so good,’ you’d leave his barn knowing there was no way you were going to get beat.
My biggest win might have been in the Kentucky Oaks in 2006 for Dallas Stewart. It was near the end of my career – OK, the first end of my career – and I won on Lemons Forever, who was 47-1.
But I think the biggest race I won, because it came at such a great time, was on Buzzards Bay in the 2005 Santa Anita Derby for Jeff Mullins. A few months earlier, a bunch of riders had stood up in Kentucky because we believed our insurance policy was inadequate. Tony D’Amico had been hurt in a spill, and he reached the $100,000 policy limit in about four days. A few of us said, that’s not right, and we chose not to accept mounts at Churchill. At that point, we were ejected from the track.
To make a long story short, I went to California to ride for Mullins, and the first three or four weeks everything went good. Then Pat Valenzuela came back and took a lot of my horses, but I was still riding Buzzards Bay. I won the Golden Gate Derby on him, then we won the Santa Anita Derby at 30-1.
To have that opportunity, to me, was huge. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in Kentucky. Then, the very next spring I’m back at Churchill and winning the Oaks with Lemons Forever. I guess it proves everything comes full circle and – I know it’s a bad pun – when you get lemons, you should make lemonade.


  1. It's great to have you back in the saddle, Gid. During the three years I lived in S.Florida ('05-'07), you were one of my top jocks as a bettor at Gulfstream. May you have continued success in all that you do!

  2. Love you Guid.. you were great to ride with and a true legend, glad that we had a chance to ride together and be friends! Keep it going, true inspiration!
    -Frankie Lovato Jr

  3. I have not checked in here for a while since I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I'll add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it friend :)
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