When Deshawn Parker goes for a walk around the backside of Indiana Grand, a number of trainers may find it hard to reconcile that image with the jockey they see on the track in the afternoon. That's because Parker stands 5 feet, 10 inches tall, nearly a head above the rest of the jockey colony.
Anyone unfamiliar with Parker's record might see his height as a disadvantage, but just a quick look at his lifetime statistics will prove otherwise. The 46-year-old has won over 5,200 races in his career to become the winningest African-American jockey in history.
The majority of those wins have come at West Virginia's Mountaineer Park, where Parker is the perennial leading rider and has been for nearly 20 years. His win rate regularly tallies about 25 percent, and the tall, lanky jock is colloquially known as the “King of the Mountain.”
With so much success at Mountaineer, what would make Parker shift his tack to Indiana Grand this season?
“The biggest thing is that Mountaineer is cutting days and cutting purses,” said Parker, referring to a recent decision by the West Virginia Racing Commission to decrease racing days from 160 to 130 in 2017.
“I got the opportunity to get (agent) Jimmy (McNerny); he called me this winter and said that if I wanted to make a move, he'd keep a spot open for me,” Parker said. “When they decided to cut days and purses at Mountaineer, I called him back and asked him to keep that spot open.
“A lot of the trainers here have been riding these guys for a long time, so I'm just hoping to keep winning races and they might give me a shot.”
True to form, Parker brought home the winner in the first race on opening day Tuesday in Indiana, piloting Lookout Angel to a 1 1/2-length victory. He rode an additional trio of horses to third-place finishes on the card.
“I got lucky to win that first race,” he said. “I was very happy to win the race and it is a great way to start the meet out like that. I had not ridden her before so I looked at the form and she likes to close, so I let her get her feet underneath her and when I asked her to run, she finished with a big kick.”
For now, Parker's family will remain at their West Virginia home. His youngest son is very active in his school's extracurricular activities, and Indiana's day-racing schedule with dark days on Sunday and Monday will allow Parker to get home on the weekends.
He is also looking forward to the opportunity to ride at other local tracks, such as Churchill, Keeneland, Belterra and Ellis.
“I just love riding, that's all I want to do,” Parker said, grinning. “Anywhere Jimmy rides me I'll go. I just want to win races.”
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