By Felix Chavez, El Paso Times
Joe BadillaFor many years, jockey Joe Badilla Jr. was one of quarter-horse racing’s biggest names and winners.

A four-time champion and the 1999 winner of the All American Futurity in Ruidoso aboard A Delightful Dasher, Badilla amassed an incredible 1,821 wins in a career that began in 1990.

But a serious bout of gout (a form of arthritis) derailed Badilla’s career, forcing him into retirement as a jockey and into training horses. But after six years of training, Badilla decided to try riding again as his health improved.

He returned in May of last year at SunRay Park in Farmington, N.M., then raced all summer in Ruidoso and has been a staple at the winter-spring meet at Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino.

“I feel strong and every day is getting better,” said the 40-year-old Badilla. “I’ve been able to get lots of work, but it’s been a challenge as well. I’ve had to really work hard in the mornings and really hustle for work. It’s an ongoing process, but I’m having fun. I’m enjoying the present, but looking forward to the future.

“This is the time of the year you start getting excited for the 2-year-olds and start thinking of the big races coming up. I have to work hard and I feel like I have to prove myself in a way. I get out there and try to ride as many horses as I can in the morning workouts.”

Of course one of Badilla’s major goals is to win another All American Futurity … or two. It was recently announced that the All American Futurity, which is quarter-horse racing’s biggest event, will be worth $3 million,, the highest in history.

“I want to be the first to win it with that amount being offered,” Badilla said. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of patience. I’m excited for the future. I love the big races, I love just riding. I learned a great deal while I was training horses, but it wasn’t the same as riding. I really missed it. Fortunately, I am healthy again to where I can ride.”

Badilla has had a strong meet so far at Sunland Park. He rode Bye Bye Eagle Eye to victory in the Sunland Park Winter Quarter Horse Derby on Dec. 27, then rode Moonstruck Love to a win in the Shue Fly Stakes on Jan. 3.

“Joe is one of the hardest workers I have ever been around,” said Dominic Rivera, who is Badilla’s agent. “He is riding great. He loves the sport and he’s a really intelligent rider. He gives everything he has.”

Badilla credits his father, Joe Badilla Sr., for being an inspiration. He also said competing against fellow jockey, G.R. Carter has provided him motivation over the years. Carter became the all-time winningest jockey in the quarter-horse ranks last May.

“I learned so much from my father and he always pushed me to be the best,” Badilla said. “G.R. is a great rider and he is someone that always competes at a high level. I just want to keep getting better every day and I’m eager to see what happens down the road. There is so much I still want to accomplish.”