In support of a grassroots effort to bring 62-year-old Thoroughbred jockey Perry Ouzts to the attention of the National Racing Hall of Fame, Turfway Park will honor the local rider and his continuing 43-year career with Perry Ouzts Day on Fri., Jan. 6. The day's fourth race will be named for Ouzts, with a presentation in the winner's circle to follow.
Ouzts (“Ooots”) ranks 11th by career wins among all North American jockeys in history and still rides several races a day. A petition already has been sent to the National Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York, and more signatures will be collected on Perry Ouzts Day.
“Turfway is proud to honor Perry and support efforts to see him nominated to the Hall of Fame,” said Turfway Park general manager Daniel “Chip” Bach. “The effort has been entirely fan-driven, a true testimony to Perry's popularity with fans, bettors and horsemen alike.”
Florence resident Nadia Greenidge is the fan driving the Hall of Fame effort. She met Ouzts after seeing a documentary about his career. “I decided to meet him in person and I was not disappointed,” she said. “He was very kind and welcoming, and as I learned more about his riding record I knew it was the right thing for Perry Ouzts to be in the Hall of Fame. He's a great jockey and a gentleman, and he absolutely belongs.”
Through Jan. 1, Ouzts has ridden in 48,900 races, collecting 6,712 wins, 6,358 seconds and 6,031 thirds and earning $42,643,792 in purses. Of the 10 jockeys ranked above him, only two, Edgar Prado (eighth) and Mario Pino (10th), are still active and only one, Russell Baze (first), has ridden more races. All but one of the 10 are already in the Hall of Fame, and Ouzts has more lifetime wins than such legendary Hall of Famers as Eddie Delahoussaye, John Velazquez, Jerry Bailey, Mike Smith, Gary Stevens and Eddie Arcaro. Ouzts has earned multiple leading-rider titles, including 32 at Belterra Park, at least 11 at the now-closed Beulah Park and two at Turfway.
A silent auction on Perry Ouzts Day will offer memorabilia signed by the jockey, including commemorative mugs, tee shirts and bobbleheads. Authentic jockey silks and Turfway Park saddle cloths will be available for purchase, $10 unsigned and $25 signed. Signed race photos donated by Coady Photography will be available for donations. Every dollar collected will be donated to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
“Perry is the hardest-working person I know,” said trainer Susan Anderson, who has named Ouzts on horses since she returned from Dubai 16 years ago. “He's all business, mornings and during races. Some younger riders don't want to get out there when it's really cold, but Perry never complains—about anything. And he's absolutely fearless. I don't have to say a lot to him. He knows the horses. He studies the [Daily Racing] Form. For me to tell him what to do during a race would be silly.”
Ouzts was the subject of the aptly-named documentary Ironman Perry Ouzts, which won the 2015 Media Eclipse Award for Television-Feature for directors Brad and John Hennegan. The jockey's work ethic and stamina are legendary on the Midwest circuit, where he has spent most of his career since winning his first race in 1973 at Beulah Park. He rode 974 races in 2016 alone, winning with 16 percent of his mounts and finishing in the money with 42 percent. He also still works horses during morning exercise, dressed in his signature black leather.
That leather and his helmet likely spared Ouzts serious injury on May 9, 2012, when a car crossed two lanes on the Cincinnati beltway and slammed into his motorcycle as he was returning home after morning work at Belterra Park. His Harley was destroyed, but Ouzts not only survived with scrapes and bruises but also returned to Belterra that same afternoon to honor his riding commitments—and won with his first two mounts.
An on-track accident at Turfway Park on Jan. 29, 2006, put Ouzts out of action for nearly a year. His mount in the second race, Finders Chance, inexplicably fell and threw Ouzts to the track as the field turned for home. Four of the jockey's vertebrae were cracked and another was crushed. Unable to avoid the fallen rider, a trailing horse clipped his right forearm, causing a compound fracture. As Finders Chance—completely unhurt—kicked out to rise, he trampled Ouzts's left leg, bruising the length of it.
At the time Ouzts was 84 wins away from 5,000 and determined to come back. Eleven months later, in the eighth race on Dec. 30, 2006, again at Turfway, he returned to the winner's circle. The story of his comeback won multiple awards for outstanding journalism for Kentucky Enquirer reporter Shannon Russell.
Ouzts makes his home in Hebron, Ky., with his wife, Toni, and the couple's two sons. Born July 7, 1954, he grew up in Rivervale, Ark., riding horses with his cousin, Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires. Fires is 12th on the all-time win list; Ouzts passed him in June 2015.
First post Friday is 6:15 p.m. The night also features dollar draft beer, hot dogs and bets and a free concert by Naked Karate Girls. Admission to Turfway Park is free every day except Spiral Stakes Day, March 25.
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