David Cohen — enjoying a banner season after resuming his promising riding career following an injury-induced hiatus spanning almost four years — is the recipient of JockeyTalk360.com's fourth annual Comeback Jockey of the Year Award, presented by Red Brand Fence.
Cohen will receive the award during the Jockeys' Guild Assembly luncheon Tuesday at Top Golf located adjacent to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Irad Ortiz will be honored as JockeyTalk360 Turf Jockey of the Year, with Drayden Van Dyke recognized as JockeyTalk360 Breakthrough Jockey of the Year. The JockeyTalk360 awards are in addition to the honors handed out at the luncheon by the Jockeys' Guild at their annual assembly.
The 34-year-old Cohen has won 109 races and almost $6.5 million in 2018 purse earnings through Friday, according to Equibase statistics. That's the jockey's most wins since 2012 and most purse earnings since 2010. In taking the Grade 2 Hill Prince on Have At It and the Grade 3 Matron on Lonely Road, Cohen won his first graded stakes since Golden Ticket's historic dead-heat for victory in Saratoga's Grade 1 Travers Stakes six years earlier.
Cohen was among the sport's rising stars when he was kicked in his lower right leg by his mount in the paddock at Aqueduct on Feb. 1, 2014. His badly fractured fibula and tibia required surgery involving a plate and six screws to repair.
“It was never a matter of 'if' but a matter of 'when' I was going to return,” Cohen said. “If you're not right mentally, it's going to show. I wouldn't do that to people trusting me with the horses and giving me an opportunity if I wasn't 100 percent ready, not just physically but the mental state as well. It was just wanting to do it the right way.”
Cohen spent much of his childhood in Las Vegas and says the return for the Jockeys' Guild Assembly provides a memorable homecoming. “The year has developed over time to becoming a very good year,” he said. “You're always honored if you're recognized for something. I'm just very fortunate for the support I have from the owners and trainers I rode for and am blessed to be back in the sport I love so much.”
The cancer-related death of his father, California horse owner Morry Cohen, several months after the paddock mishap had the jockey struggling to heal not only physically but emotionally. He rode six races in late 2014 but was determined to have a torn meniscus in his right knee. Cohen suffered another personal loss a year later with the death of his sister, Dana.
He did not ride again Nov. 30, 2017, at the Fair Grounds. That proved the first step toward a big winter meet at Oaklawn Park, where he finished third in the standings with 37 wins, before rejoining the New York circuit last spring.
“David had to deal not only with his initial injuries and subsequent complications, but then the devastating double toll of losing his dad, who was his best friend and got him into horse racing, and his sister,” said C.J. Johnsen, publisher of JockeyTalk360.com. “Being a race-rider requires far more than physical ability. The mind strength of jockeys is really under-appreciated. Riding races is extremely challenging, not just physically but mentally. David knew he had more to mend than just his leg. But his perseverance to come back, and to come back the right way, just shows his strength, passion and respect for the game.”
Cohen has won 1,347 races and almost $50 million in purses in a career that started in 2004.
“My leg now, I can't even tell,” the jockey said his injuries. “It came back better than I ever could have hoped for. My agent, Bill Castle, is very tactical and we really wanted to come back and do well and win right away, not just pop up and say, 'Here I am' at Saratoga. I was very fortunate with the support I had in my return at Oaklawn Park. That return was very well thought-out. I could have returned maybe six months earlier. But I just took a long time in the gym getting my body strong and getting my weight down over the time, the healthy and right way.
“My father was an owner and breeder, so I respect that people are giving me their business, their money on the line, their opportunity that they could give to someone else. I'm coming back with the best riders in the world and saying, 'Give me an opportunity.' It's not a sport that people can just put up money and say, 'Let's hope it works.' The trainers, the exercise riders, grooms, everyone working their tail off day in and day out, I wouldn't do that to them. I wanted to make sure I was in the right place, and I believe it showed. I had a lot of good feedback from horsemen. If it was the opposite way, I don't think I'd have had the year I've had.
“I'm riding for a lot of high-end trainers and getting opportunities I didn't get prior. Probably for the first six, seven months of my return, I didn't take one day off from going to the track working horses in the morning. I just went out there, rode hard, rode to the wire on every horse and just showed that I was here for my love of the horses and what I was doing. It was more of a blessing to get back to doing what I love than worrying about how well I was going to do.”
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