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A Look at Legendary Jockey Pat Day!

Updated on January 2, 2013

Over the decades, thoroughbred horse racing has seen some terrific horses come and go. Secretariat, Man O’ War, Seabiscuit, Affirmed and so many other legends come to mind, but often times we overlook the men who were aboard these magnificent animals when they were at the height of their greatness. The men, who are small in physical stature, but loom large in the history of racing, are not often the focus of our attention as we take a look back through history. There have been some talented people saddling up, including Laffit Pincay, Willie Shoemaker, and George Woolf among many others. Today we are going to take a look at the career of Pat Day, who was one of the most dominant and popular jockey’s, not only in his heyday of the 80’s and 90’s, but also in the history of horse racing.

Day was born in Colorado in October of 1953 and began his love for sports at an early age. Though he was small, he had a very competitive appetite and it showed as he was a state wrestling champion while in high school. That competitive spirit drew him to horses and for a short time, he actually took to riding in rodeos before moving on to a somewhat less dangerous occupation riding thoroughbreds. Day won his first race at Prescott Downs in Arizona in 1973 and began a career that was both illustrious and profitable.

Day eventually adopted Kentucky as his home, both professionally and personally, becoming a legend at Churchill Downs in Louisville and Keeneland in nearby Lexington. He was a fan favorite and is the all-time leading jockey at Churchill Downs. He was so successful and dominant that it didn’t matter what horse he was on, the bettors would line up to smack down large amounts, even with diminished returns from the heavy betting that accompanied a wager on Day.

Early in his career, Day suffered from the excesses of being at the pinnacle of his profession as he took to drugs and alcohol, but was able to beat those demons as he became a “born again” Christian in the 1980’s and rededicated himself to his family and his work. During the decade of the 80’s he began to show dominance as he recorded wins in 14 major racing events, including a day at Arlington in 1989 where he won eight of the nine races on the card, which was a North American record. The 1990’s were also great for Day. He won his only Kentucky Derby riding long shot Lil E. Tee in 1992, took the Preakness Stakes four times and was aboard a Breeders’ Cup winner seven times. Day also held his own into the decade of the 2000’s with wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Belmont Stakes, but a hip injury caused him to end his career in 2005.

Overall, Pat Day has a dazzling career record, winning four Eclipse Awards and being inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1991. He was the leading jockey in wins and/or earnings eight times, while winning 8,804 career races (4th all-time) with winnings at nearly $298 million (1st all-time). He won a combined nine times in Triple Crown races, taking the Preakness in three consecutive years (’94, ’95, ’96), and when he retired he had amassed over $23 million in winnings at the Breeders’ Cup. Day continues to be one of the most recognizable people in all of horse racing and was truly a giant in his profession.

An Interview With Hall of Famer Pat Day!


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