PETE MONACO | THE EIGHTH POLE

Jockey Alex Birzer (right) and his son Brett Birzer (left). Brett followed in his father’s footsteps to become a jockey before he outgrew his riding career. ALEX BIRZER/FOR DESERT VALLEY TIMES

Alex Birzer is a veteran, multiple graded stakes-winning jockey who’s been a rock solid rider around our nation’s heartland since winning his first race in 1992.

A native of Hutchenson, Kansas, Birzer was born in 1973, and soon after was introduced into horse racing by his father, Gareld Birzer. Gareld was a decent jockey for a couple of years at the Kansas Fairs and became a highly respected and well known trainer around Fonner Park in Nebraska and all along the Midwest, corn belt circuit in general.

Alex Birzer has enjoyed several successful meets at Oaklawn Park, where he scored his first stakes victory in 2003 and became the 147th North American jockey to achieve 3,000 career victories on Feb. 26 at the Arkansas track. He’s led the standings four times at the now-defunct Woodlands racetrack, just outside Kansas City, Kansas, and holds four titles at Prairie Meadows and has also done rather well at Remmington Park. On Aug. 15, 1997, Alex booted home six winners from his eight mounts on the day at Agricultural Park and the feat was extra sweet, as his daughter, Jordan Leann was born only the day before.

Alex also had a pretty good day this year in Iowa on July 6, when he won Prairie Meadow’s richest race, the Grade 3, $300,000 Cornhusker Handicap aboard 19/1 shot, Remembering Rita. Trained by Doug Anderson, Remembering Rita got the perfect trip while stalking the early leader, Dalmore, who was ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Turning for home, Alex let Remembering Rita go and he responded by blowing by Dalmore to a decisive 1-1/2 length victory and rewarding his backers with $41.60 for every $2 bet to win.

A horse-racing family

Alex tried passing on the family occupation to his more than eager son, Brett.

“Brett rode for about a year,” Alex said. “He probably spent more time in the hot box than any bug boy (apprentice rider) in the nation. He worked harder to become a rider than anyone I’ve ever been around. I was extremely proud of him for trying so hard and I’m still proud to this day.”

“Unfortunately, my son outgrew his riding career. He’s 5 foot 7 and filled out a little bit,” he said.

In addition to Alex’s dad being a former jockey and trainer, his father-in-law, Dennis Good is also a trainer who Alex learned quite a bunch from. And younger brother, Gary was a jockey for some seven years and sat on 6,870 mounts, 765 of those rides being winners. But on July 20, 2004, Gary’s career was cut short in a severe spill at Mountaineer Park that left him permanently injured. Through years of hard work and supreme effort, Gary is out and about these days driving to and attending events for The Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund. But he still finds time to follow big brother Alex around the ovals. Gary said,  “I’m extremely proud of my brother every time he climbs aboard a horse. He’s a very talented and exciting rider and I really enjoy watching him ride.”

The rock

Behind every good man, there is usually a great woman lurking nearby and Alex Birzer is no exception. Alex is blessed with his wife of 21 years, Bonnie. She’s a schoolteacher who divides her time among her children’s events and the racetrack, but to really give you an idea of what kind of person Bonnie is, we need to back up to February.

Alex was set up nicely to score his 3,000th win on Feb. 26, as he had plenty of mounts and needed only one more winner to achieve the milestone. On the day before that future celebration, Bonnie spent the entire day driving all over the state of Kansas, shuffling kids to track meets and events.

That evening, she also wound up driving all night to pick up their daughter, Jordan, from college so they could make it to Hot Springs, Arkansas the next day to surprise Alex in the Oaklawn winner’s circle for win #3,000. They barely made it and Alex was more than pleasantly surprised.

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