2018 Comeback Jockey of the Year – David Cohen
GRAPEVINE, Texas (Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018) — 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.”
The JockeyTalk360 awards recognize outstanding performers who are members of the Jockeys’ Guild, the organization representing more than 950 riders in North America. A panel of industry experts determines the winners.
About Red Brand: Started in 1889 in Peoria, Ill., and now owned by Keystone Consolidated Industries, Red Brand Fence is the world’s largest manufacturer of agriculture and equine fencing, with its KeepSafe® V-Mesh Horse Fence an industry staple as the most cost-effective and safest for all breeds and disciplines. Red Brand is the official fence of the Breeders’ Cup and a supporter of Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Old Friends equine retirement facilities and Horse Racing Radio Network, with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, recently retired riding legend Gary Stevens and rising-star Drayden Van Dyke serving as ambassadors. Red Brand also partners with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association to offer rebates to farms. More information about Red Brand is available at redbrand.com.
About JockeyTalk360.com: Created and produced by the father-son team of Corey and C.J. Johnsen, JockeyTalk360.com promotes and celebrates the sport of horse racing by showcasing riders from across the nation and around the world. JockeyTalk360.com‘s mission is to bring fans closer to these talented, fit and fearless athletes. JockeyTalk360 also is the publisher of the definitive book on riders, Bob Fortus and Gary West’s Ride to Win: An Inside Look at the Jockey’s Craft, and the racing-themed mystery by John Perrotta, Half a Chance, both books for sale at JockeyTalk360.com. Follow JockeyTalk360 on Twitter @JockeyTalk and facebook.com/JockeyTalk360.
2017 Comeback Jockey of the Year – Rajiv Maragh
Rajiv Maragh — who returned to riding at racing’s top level mere weeks after being sidelined for 15 months with career-threatening injuries — is the recipient of JockeyTalk360.com’s third annual Comeback Jockey of the Year Award, presented by Horsemen’s Track and Equipment.
Horsemen’s Track and Equipment president Randy Bloch will present the 32-year-old Maragh the award during the Jockeys’ Guild Assembly luncheon Tuesday, Dec. 12, at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. The JockeyTalk360 awards are in addition to the honors handed out at the luncheon by the Jockeys’ Guild.
Maragh said he thought he was “going to die” when his mount in Belmont Park’s fifth race on July 10, 2015, landed on the jockey after clipping heels and falling. The jockey sustained eight broken vertebrae, a collapsed lung and broken ribs that left him bed-ridden for weeks and in a body brace for nine months.
“I was in a bad physical and mental state for a long time,” Maragh told The (Louisville) Courier-Journal last spring. “It was frustrating. All that time, all I can really remember is pain — pain and suffering. That’s all I could remember for a year.
“I had to rethink and reflect on everything in my life and see where I’m at and what I want …. When I thought about everything, all roads led back to me being a jockey. I want to do what makes me happy and what I love to do, which is riding horses and racing horses. That’s what drove me.”
Maragh resumed riding in November, 2016. The Jamaican native has won more than 100 races and purses approaching $7.3 million since his return, including taking the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and finishing second in the Belmont Stakes on Irish War Cry and winning Saratoga’s Grade 1 Ballerina aboard By the Moon.
2016 Comeback Jockey of the Year – Norberto Arroyo, Jr.
Norberto Arroyo Jr. has righted his life and put his career back on track in relocating to Southern California in 2016. Arroyo earned his first SoCal title at Del Mar’s short fall meet with 12 victories. That followed his close third in the Santa Anita fall meet standings with 19 — more than he won in all of 2015 — and also won 19 victories at Del Mar’s summer meet to finish sixth in the standings. At more than $3 million through Dec. 5, his 2016 purse earnings already are his highest since 2006. With the Del Mar Derby (Free Rose) and Torrey Pines (Belvoir Bay), Arroyo won his first graded stakes since 2006.
“The California stewards made this happen,” said Nelson Arroyo, his brother’s agent and a former jockey. “No one would give Norberto a license, and the California stewards trusted me saying that Norberto had changed. The No. 1 reason was God. Norberto without God would never ever have changed. For him to go from not being able to get licensed, to riding in New Mexico, where he wasn’t even doing that well there, to come here and now win this trophy — all thanks to God, the stewards in California and the trainers who gave him the opportunity. We’re here not only because of Norberto’s hard work but because he was given another chance.”
2015 Comeback Jockey of the Year – T.D. Houghton
In March of 2014, Houghton suffered multiple breaks in his collarbone and a T9 fracture to his vertebra in a fall at Mountaineer Park. He returned to the saddle in the summer to ride at Hazel Park then suffered severe injuries following a spill at Mountaineer again in October of 2014. Houghton overcame an injury riddled 2014 to win riding titles at both Mountaineer and Mahoning Valley Racecourse in 2015. The veteran rider won 258 races and his mounts earned $3,470,309 in 2015. That was a great improvement over his 2014 totals of 67 wins for $866,604 in earnings.
Houghton was quick to thank both his agent, Tim Freking, and trainer Robert Gorham for their help when returning to the races. “I really owe Bob for talking me into coming to the new Mahoning Valley course in Ohio. I had maybe planned on going to Charles Town as soon as I got back riding but Bob said he had some nice horses for us to ride in Ohio so we did. We got off to a great start and have done well there ever since.”
Houghton rode at both Mountaineer and Mahoning Valley early in the year winning the riding title at Mountaineer in the spring and just missing the first ever riding title at new Mahoning Valley. He would take that title later in the year at the Mahoning Valley Winter meeting.