When jockey Kevin Krigger walked away from racing in 2014, the year after he piloted Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby, he didn't intend to return to the game. Krigger took several consecutive spills in 2014, one of which gave him a second fracture of the L3 vertebrae. It was not his first spinal injury, and he had been told by his doctors he may not fully recover.
Now 34, Krigger said he's contemplating a comeback.
“I rode for 14 years,” he said. “I know a lot of younger riders that retired already. When I decided to walk away, I didn't announce my retirement or anything like that but I really didn't plan on coming back.”
A native of St. Croix, Krigger returned to the island to recover from his injuries. He still hops on horses regularly (as many as five to 10 on the days he goes to the track) and has been mentoring aspiring jockeys at the racetrack on the island. News broke earlier this year of Krigger's return to the races on the mainland, but the multiple graded stakes-winning rider said he's not the type to rush things. When he does return to the saddle, he plans to ride at Parx, where former handicapper and turfwriter-turned-agent John Da Silva will have his book. Luckily for him, Krigger finds after all the years of riding and training, he doesn't have much trouble staying fit.
“I don't have to push myself that hard to maintain my fitness,” said Krigger. “When I learned to ride, I learned to ride on a barrel, and a barrel is ten times harder to ride than a racehorse and twenty times harder to ride than an Equicizer.”
Mentor Julio Felix taught Krigger the barrel trick. Not only must he tighten his abs and upper body to hover over the barrel, keeping the barrel from rolling over also requires incredible balance.
Krigger has been riding any horse he could find for as long as he can remember (his elementary school teacher frequently had to call his parents to tell them he had left class to hop on his pony), and held match races against his friends aboard his mare Dandella. Krigger won his first race at the Randall “Doc” James track in St. Croix at the age of 17, thanks to Felix's tutelage. He still tells young riders the barrel method is the best way to get themselves fit.
Aspiring riders on St. Croix have begun flocking to Krigger for advice on jumpstarting their careers. There is no established jockey school on the island, and the best bet for young apprentices is to find a mentor like Krigger who has had some success on the mainland and returned home. He's happy to give back to the local racing community and tries to meet with his young protégées whenever possible.
“It's not an everyday thing but I go as often as I can,” he said. “It's a very good feeling that the young riders look up to me, but it's been like that for my whole career, believe it or not. Even when I had the apprenticeship, I had other apprentices who would come to me to learn more about how to ride. I've always had the love for showing other riders how to ride.”
Krigger hasn't lost his drive to compete himself, either. Although he enjoys exercising horses, he admits the racetrack still calls.
“To be honest, it's hard to watch horses and not want to ride. It's not easy,” he said. “The adrenaline, the race, everything about it, it's hard to adjust being away from it.”
Even so, Krigger is hesitant to set a definite return date because he's also developing another job. Many racing fans may not realize Krigger has long juggled a career in music alongside being a jockey, and the time out of the saddle has allowed him to explore his music further. He owns the OGR4Life record label and sings dancehall reggae music, a style combining reggae flavor with modern R&B. Krigger's lyrics are split between autobiographical pieces and more stylistic R&B themes. He has been in the recording studio on and off for the past few months and wants to finish work on his first full record before moving to Pennsylvania. Krigger hasn't promoted many of his original recordings yet but has built a team with his record label to help with marketing after he goes back to the track.
“Everyone looks at it like there's no way I could possibly be a jockey and do my music at the same time, but I actually did a lot of recording while I was still riding,” said Krigger. “During the time I was riding Goldencents, I was recording full-time.”
To Krigger, the idea of riding one day and flying to a performance the next isn't much different from his days at the top of the sport, when he'd ride a card in California and then hop on a plane to pick up a mount on the East Coast.
“Stuff like that makes me think it's doable,” he said. “I'm not going to forget that I'm a jockey and go out there and party and get drunk and then try to come back tomorrow and ride. It's about being totally professional with the whole thing.”
As Krigger puts the finishing touches on his album, he remains relaxed about his timeline for return to the saddle. He says it's in his nature to take life as it comes, without getting too worried about deadlines or pressure. He's not sure whether or not his easygoing nature helps him connect with horses, but it probably doesn't hurt.
“I've been trying to put a time on when I'm coming back and I've past my due date already,” he said. “Especially with horse racing, you can't win them all, so you have to enjoy it.”
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