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.