Statistically, Mark Guidry is one of only 34 jockeys to win more than 5,000 races. In addition to those glittery stats, he is so well regarded by his peers that he received the 2006 George Woolf Award that honors jockeys whose character and career reflect positively on themselves and Thoroughbred racing.
When he received the Woolf award, Guidry credited his Louisiana upbringing that emphasized respect. He said that treating others the way one wanted to be treated was “pounded” into youngsters while growing up. In those formative years in a racing-rich culture, Guidry had easy access to horses and, like so many premiere jockeys, he started riding in informal races during his youth.
He learned his lessons so well on and off the track, Guidry soon was riding a steady stream of winners. His quick success eventually sent him away from his home state but ultimately back to his roots after he untacked for the final time in 2014.
Guidry is now a steward at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, La., during the season and a full-time family man the rest of the year. He and his wife Tina have been married 38 years and live in the Lafayette area about 30 miles south of the track. As he awaits the return of racing in April, they enjoy time with their people. The Guidry clan members who live in the area include their three children, blended brood of six grandchildren, all but one of Guidry's siblings and his 90-year-old father.
“Being a steward is what I wanted to be when I retired,” he said. “It took a long time to achieve that and I am grateful that (Evangeline owner) Boyd Gaming gave me the opportunity. I had a couple of opportunities in different states but I didn't want to go. It is great to be home and do something that I love.”
After completing two seasons as a steward, Guidry said his favorite part of the job is helping the next generation.
“Some of the young jockeys say I am mean but I just come across too strong sometimes,” he said. “But if they are not listening, I put a little bass in my voice but it is only to try to help them. For me, it is giving back.”
After gaining his first victory as a teenager, Guidry remained on the Louisiana circuit until relocating to Fairmount Park in Illinois. From there he went to the Chicago circuit, where he secured his place as a top rider and earned many leading jockey titles at Sportsman's Park, Hawthorne Racecourse and Arlington Park while often wintering at Gulfstream Park.
Along the way, Guidry won marquee races including the 2006 Kentucky Oaks on Lemons Forever, 2005 Santa Anita Derby on Buzzards Bay, 2001 Turfway Spiral with Balto Star and 2005 Washington Park Handicap (and a subsequent third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic) aboard Perfect Drift.
He attempted retirement after closing 2007 with another consistent year but he missed race riding too much to say goodbye. Any doubts about a return were erased when he made repeated trips to the winner's circle in 2011 after one comeback mount in 2010. Despite rejuvenating his career, Guidry became his own toughest critic and began questioning his ability and competitive moves with thoughts of injury on his mind. On March 29, 2014, after finishing second in a Fair Grounds stakes and two days after riding a winner, Guidry took off dirt-encrusted silks for the final time.
“It came to the point where I did not want to fall,” he said. “I feel like maybe I wasn't taking the (chances) that I should have been. Sometimes I was not satisfied with my performance. It kind of hindered my performance. That is when I said it was time to give it up.”
With 5,222 triumphs from 32,377 mounts, he is 28th on the all-time leader list by wins as of early April, despite retiring five years ago. His mounts earned more than $106 million.
To stay in touch with the track, Guidry became a trainer after his initial retirement and accumulated 30 victories from 301 starters in a four-year span. Following his final retirement, he was as a jockey agent before reinventing himself for a front side job.
“I miss being a jockey when the big races are on — Breeders' Cups and Triple Crown races,” he said. “I miss that part of the game. But I don't miss the everyday part of the game. I loved being with the guys and all that stuff. All my life I have been in the jocks' room. That was the fun part — getting to know everybody and having relationships. I can still do that a little bit.”
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