By Felix Chávez / El Paso Times20150218__EPT-L-HorseRacing-0219~p1_200

Casey Lambert has been a part of the horse-racing landscape since the age of 16 when he rode his first race as a professional.

He’s twice endured broken necks, spent several days in a hospital with a concussion and punctured lungs and has had to battle the everyday ups and downs of being a professional jockey.

But through it all, the 49-year-old Lambert, who is a graduate of Coronado High School, is still working hard, is still riding determined and has proven he can still ride effectively at a high level.

On Saturday at The Casino at Sunland Park Racetrack, Lambert will ride in one of the biggest races during the current meet at the track — the 15th running of the Mine That Bird Derby, which serves as a prep race for the Sunland Derby.

The Mine That Bird Derby is named after the horse that won the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Lambert rode Mine That Bird in the Borderland Derby and Sunland Derby before the horse went on to win the Kentucky Derby with Calvin Borel aboard.

On Saturday, Lambert will be aboard the even-money, morning-line favorite Cinco Charlie. He last rode Cinco Charlie — who has won six career races for trainer Steve Asmussen at big tracks around the nation — to a win in the Riley Allison Derby on Jan. 24 at the Sunland track.

“I’m excited about the race and about being aboard Cinco Charlie again,” Lambert said. “But, I’m focused on this race only. That is the most important race. I’m still enjoying riding, but it’s the horses that are good and who I have a chance to do well on that I really enjoy riding. When I was younger, I used to enjoy riding every race at every level.

“Cinco Charlie has a great deal of class and is just easy to ride. Steve has done a great job training him. I’ve known Steve for many years and he always has his horses ready to race.”

Lambert has won races all over New Mexico and Texas, as well as other tracks around the country. His first win was for his father, Clifford Lambert, aboard Double B Express in a stakes race at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino.

One of Casey’s favorite horses also was an Asmussen-trained horse, Heritage of Gold. Lambert rode the standout to a win in the Molly Pitcher Stakes at the competitive Monmouth racetrack in New Jersey and to a handful of stakes wins at Lone Star Park in Texas.

“That was a great horse and it was a great experience riding her and having the success we did,” Lambert said.

He’s also ridden other horses to stakes wins, including Brax and Ky’s Quest, named after his two sons, Kyler and Braxton.

An eager competitor, Lambert has battled through challenges to get to the point he is now.

“I just try to go out and do the very best I can every race,” Lambert said. “It has been tough at times with the injuries. I was riding really well and had a lot of good mounts before my last broken neck. And it was tough to ride and not have those same type of mounts. But in this business, you have to be patient and hopefully things will work out.

“I was grateful for picking up Cinco Charlie and we’ll see how things go after Saturday. I just have to go out on Saturday and ride to the best of my ability to help the horse win.”

Lambert will also get the opportunity to compete in the 10th running of the Island Fashion Stakes on Sunday aboard Synkros, who is also trained by Asmussen. The one-mile race is a prep for next month’s Sunland Oaks.

This could be the last go around for Lambert in his riding career. He turns 50 this year and he said he told himself that once he reached that age, he would retire.

“The end is near and I’m OK with that,” Lambert said. “It has been a roller coaster of a career, but I’ve been fortunate as well. I’ve learned from so many great riders. I was fortunate to be involved with the likes of Mike Smith, Jerry Bailey and so many others. The sport has taken me to a lot of places. I have a great family who has supported me for so long. I’m really proud of my kids and what they have done.”

His father, who is 78 and still trains horses, said his son has a big heart and has endured a great deal to stay in the sport as long as he has.

“Casey has had to overcome a great deal over the years with some of the injuries he’s had,” he added. “He’s a tough guy and I’m proud of him.

“He’s had some good wins along the way and I know he has some wins left in him. He’s had a good career.”