Nearly a year since a serious injury put his promising riding career on hold, apprentice Romero Ramsay Maragh is ready to pick up where he left off.
The 19-year-old Maragh will be aboard Rayo My King in the eighth race Sunday, Jan. 19, the first of three mounts on the weekend at Gulfstream Park. He is also named to ride Haafilah in Sunday's 11th race and Malibu Music in the 10th race on a special Martin Luther King Jr. holiday program Monday, Jan. 20.
“For me it'll be like a sense of a great accomplishment. Then again, I have to kind of carry on like it's normal because for me to be thinking otherwise, it will disrupt my performance,” Maragh said. “I want to perform at the high level I'm used to performing at. I'm excited, but at the same time I'm 100 percent focused, especially when the time comes.”
A native Hollywood, Fla, Maragh fractured a pair of vertebrae in his spine when he fell after his horse, Classic Act, clipped heels during the Gulfstream opener last Jan. 31.
Maragh underwent a six-hour procedure to fuse four thoracic vertebrae, T5 through T8, and was fitted with an upper-body brace. Less than a month later, he was back at Gulfstream to visit with his fellow riders.
“The first three or four months was a little rough. I got cleared to drive after about two or three months,” Maragh said. “But, I'm a very physical person and I couldn't do any physical activities for around six months. I got my brace taken off two or three months after my injury, so it wasn't too bad.”
His back stabilized by a titanium rod, Maragh was unable to bend for the first five months following his injury. Hour-long therapy sessions three times a week push his recovery along.
“In August, I was mostly only restricted to just not riding. In November, my doctor said if I wanted to, I could start getting on horses. He said he could clear me to ride if I really push for it,” he said. “After we spoke, I said I'm not going to clear myself to ride if I'm not 100 percent. I decided instead to get as fit as I can.”
Maragh did so with a combination of therapy and exercise, spending hours on an Equicizer to begin sharpening his riding skills. Once 2019 turned into 2020, he began getting on horses again in the morning.
“The morning I sat on a horse for the first day, it felt like another day at the office for me. It felt really great,” Maragh said. “I got on three horses my first morning – I jogged two horses and I galloped one – and I didn't break a sweat. I felt really good. I felt really fit.
“The first couple months were more recovery. For six months I was really restricted with what I can and cannot do, and after that it was kind of making sure and insuring that my body was ready to take on horse racing again,” he added. “That doesn't only mean am I strong enough and my back is strong enough to push a horse; I made sure that my body was ready enough to where I could take a fall.”
Maragh spent his down time wisely, applying the same study and preparation habits that saw him graduate from McArthur High School with a 4.0 grade point average.
“Since the day I fell, I've been watching races. It's kind of a little hurtful to watch but I watched so I prepared for the future,” Maragh said. “A lot of the horses I see running, I take notes. I know how they run, I know their good habits and bad habits, so I was kind of preparing myself while I was out. At the same time, I was watching different riders ride, picking out their riding styles so it can help me.
“I got eight months of experience riding,” he added. “Of course, I would have preferred not to have fallen, but, taking the good from the bad, I got a good chance to look in from the outside and see what I could improve on and what I can fix, different stuff that I can work on that's going to really help me as a rider.”
Maragh was Gulfstream's leading apprentice at the time of his injury, winning 19 of 262 races and $734,117 in purse earnings, including the $75,000 Wait a While with subsequent Grade 3 winner A Bit Special.
He debuted April 15, 2018 at Gulfstream, recording his first win 13 days later aboard As It Happens. A Bit Special provided Maragh with his first career stakes victory in the My Dear Peggy Sept. 29, closing day of Gulfstream's 2018 summer meet, where he ranked in the top 10 in mounts (272), wins (25) and purse earnings ($817,685).
Maragh entered the 2018-19 Championship Meet with high hopes, despite facing a collection of riders such as Hall of Famers Javier Castellano and John Velazquez and Eclipse Award-winning brothers Irad Ortiz Jr. and Jose Ortiz. The group now includes his cousin, multiple graded-stakes winner Rajiv Maragh, who himself has battled through serious injuries.
“When I fell, I think I was fifth or sixth in a really deep colony. I'm 19, and these guys I'm riding with I greatly admired growing up watching racing,” Maragh said. “It was really amazing to me that I was doing so well competing with them and learning so much from them. I really just want to get to the same level of riding and pick up some business and pick up where I left off.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't come back, unless the doctor said to me, 'I don't think you should ride,' or it would be a further risk,” he added. “I made sure and put it into my mind to keep myself thinking, 'You're coming back,' and focused on coming back.”
Maragh doesn't anticipate any nerves Sunday when he climbs aboard Herbert Miller-trained Rayo My King in the six-furlong claiming event for 4-year-olds and up. Still sporting his five-pound weight allowance, they will break from Post 2 in the field of 10.
“To be honest, when I go out there it's like I'm locked in. I have a good mindset to where I won't be nervous. I'll be locked in and I'll have a game plan, whether I want to break from the gate and go or take back, depending on how the race is going to set up,” Maragh said. “I don't really think I'll have a nervous mindset; [I'll] kind of block out everything, block out the outside and focus on getting the job done.”
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