Riding the claimer Vivacious V.V. to victory in the first race January 22 at Fair Grounds, 43-year-old Louisiana native Robby Albarado became the 33rd North American-based jockey to win 5,000 races. The day before, Albarado won the Grade 3 Lecomte on Guest Suite. As usual, Albarado, who has won seven Fair Grounds riding titles, is having a productive meet at the New Orleans track. On Friday morning, he reflected on his career in a question-and-answer session with award-winning turf writer Bob Fortus.

Q: “So what about it, 5,000 wins?”

A: “When you start out, you never feel like you’re going to get to that point. You don’t think about how many wins you’re going to get. Think about it, 31,000 mounts. How many people have done 31,000 things of anything in life, much less get on 31,000 horses. That’s not including the match races I’ve ridden or the horses I’ve been on in the morning. So, I’ve probably mounted 61,000 horses with the ones I’ve been on in the morning. So, it’s hard to fathom, I always think of this, it’s not an individual achievement. I never thought of this as an individual. Many people have been part of it, instrumental in me getting to that 5,000, whether it’s an owner, trainer, a friend, family members. Everybody has contributed in some kind of way, whether it’s putting me on a horse, getting me ready for a day to win races. So, there’s a lot more people involved than just me.”

Q: “There were a lot of people in the winner’s circle after you rode your first winner yesterday. I think it was a $10,000 maiden.”

A: “Yeah, for Sherman Savoie, who groomed for Pete LeBlanc in 1990, when I came to the Fair Grounds and won three races the whole meet. Two of them were for Sherman, and he groomed for Pete LeBlanc. … Everyone’s important to you. It’s a big race for somebody. They’re all big races. It might not be for you. It’s a big race for somebody. And the owner was ecstatic. It’s gratifying to me. And I still love winning races, no matter who it’s for.”

Q: “I was looking at the winner’s circle and thinking about that.”

A: “It’s a cheap horse. But for somebody, it made their day. That’s their Kentucky Derby.”

Q: “It seems like you’re in a really good place right now, with your family. How important is that?”

A: “That’s important. I tried to fight that a long time ago, when I was going through my first divorce. I fought that, that this doesn’t affect your riding. When things aren’t good at home or off the track, it affects you, thinking about that instead of focusing on your riding. … You hear older jocks say that all the time when you’re young, ‘When you get older, you’ll see.’ You do see it. On the track, off the track, you’ve got priorities, and I do. You take this as a business, and I do. I enjoy it. I really enjoy riding now.”

Q: “Do you have any thoughts about how long you’re going to do it?”

A: “You know, I asked Pat Day 10 or 15 years ago – Pat and I are really good friends – and I said: ‘I want to ask you an honest question. Pat, you’ve accomplished everything, you’ve won every single race. Hall of Fame. You’ve got all the money you can spend. Why do you still do this? Why?’ He was 50 years old at the time. He looked at me serious as he could be and said, ‘You’ll see.’ That’s all he said. Now, I see. You get to this point where I really enjoy doing this. And I love riding the young babies that can run and helping that horse mature. I just love what I do. I enjoy the jocks’ room. You know, you’re respected by these young kids, and they look up to you. I help them. I help them a lot. I help the young kids in the room. Just pointers here and there, and I enjoy doing that. There’s no time on when you’re going to retire as a jockey. Look at Gary Stevens. He’s come back, stopped, and he still doesn’t know if he’s going to come back or not. I think if you’re physically able to do it – and I don’t hurt anywhere. I’m physically fit – there’s no time on when I won’t do it. I love my kids enjoying it. My kids enjoy coming to the races. They love for me riding the big races, the Derby. They love coming out here. The young baby, he enjoys coming out to the track. He loves horses. So why stop?”

Q: “I want to ask you the obvious question. All those great horses and races you’ve won – people might think of the Dubai World Cup or Curlin or Mineshaft – are those your favorites? Are there horses that are under the radar?”

A: “There are probably a few horses that are under the radar. It was all about certain times, what was going on in my life, when I won races that were more special than others. Like when I won on Kimberlite Pipe (in the1999 Louisiana Derby), I was divorced for the first time, and It was special to me that I was still doing my craft at its best, at its highest level. And when I won on the Arkansas Derby (on Curlin in 2007), my best friend’s mom had died, Jason Boulet’s mom had died. She was like a mom to me. She died the year before. It’s the emotional races to me… Just certain points in certain stages of my life. Like when I won I was going through all my legal stuff, and I won the Virginia Derby on the grass with Silver Max. Races pick me up. Kind of like when I was down, my lowest points, they pick me up. And it was a big race, a major race. And I think things happen for a reason. But the obvious horses, the major races, I could say a cliché about it and say, the World Cup, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, those are special races. But the ones that meant a lot were those when things were going on in my life, and I needed something to pick me up. It was always a horse, a race, that picked me up.”

Q: “What about the horse Guest Suite, who won the Lecomte, for Neil Howard? What do you see for that horse?”

A: “I wanted it so bad for that to be my 5,000th winner. You know Neil, he’s a classic. We don’t have a business relationship. We have an off-the-track personal relationship like no other trainer-jockey. He’s been very instrumental and helpful in my career, him and Mr. (Will) Farish and Mr. (Temple) Webber and all his owners.  He’s just a class guy, supportive throughout. The horse he has is well bred, very well bred, a homebred for Mr. Farish. That would be a great story to go to the Derby for Neil Howard. He’s been there before. He’s trained a Horse of the Year (Mineshaft). He had a Preakness winner (Summer Squall). And I’ve been there before.”

Q: “And he’s not going to say too much about any particular horse, which is a good thing.”

A: “He never does. He said something once about Mineshaft, and he was right. He never says that much about horses. He’s real conservative about it. He knows horse racing. He really likes this colt a lot, and I do, too. I think he beat a nice field the other day with a lot of obstacles to overcome. He hadn’t run since Churchill. He ran in the mud. He comes from off the pace, but at the same time, he’s fast. He had a good trip the other day. He’s not a plodder. He’s going to get better, I think. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

Q: “You were riding that horse for Dale Romans last year (Not This Time, who was retired because an injury after running second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile). It looked like he could be any kind.”

A: “It had me tossing and turning, that horse. I lost some sleep with that horse, just thinking. The potential. What could he accomplish? He was probably one of the best 2-year-old I’ve been on in my career. Maybe because I’ve been on good horse, I kind of know what it takes to win those Derbies and Triple Crown races. He was the one. I would have been so confident going into all three of those races. The way he was bred. I felt like we never knew the depth of him. We never knew the potential of how far he could go. There was more to him. It was very disappointing when he got hurt and retired.”

Q: “I think you’re riding the whole card today. It doesn’t seem like you’ve cut back at all or are picking your spots a little more with mounts.”

A: “That’s probably going to be in my last two years of riding, if I’m able to do that. But now, I love riding. I love riding every race. I’m in as physical a shape as the 22-year-olds in the jocks’ room. I know how to take care of my body. They don’t have to do anything to be fit. I do. I eat good. I’m a little wiser now. I love having a game plan in a race, with audibles in case I have to. And when I execute and it works, there’s no better feeling than knowing I made a difference in a race. … People who know me, they know that I know what I’m doing out there. If I can just stay healthy and keep doing it, keep working hard … I’m not shy about working hard.”

Q: “I’m happy you made it to 5,000. That’s really a lot.”

A: “The thing about it is, that’s why I can’t fathom Russell Baze (all-time leader in wins with 12,842). That’s remarkable, unbelievable to me. I can’t believe a jockey ever will beat that. I know they say never say never, records are made to be broken. But what Russell Baze has, he did it the hard way, on cheap horses. That’s remarkable to me. What I’ve done, many have done it. What he’s done, no one will ever take that away from him.”