Soon after being born on Oct. 29, 1984, in Torsen, California, David Cohen was introduced into the horse racing scene by his father. Morry Cohen was a well-respected and well-known owner, trainer and breeder on the California circuit, and David dove right into the family business. He started out by breaking young horses for his dad and progressed to becoming a groom and eventually a trainer’s assistant.
David Cohen then spent several years in Las Vegas before going back to California to graduate from Laguna Beach High School. He launched his riding career the next year, in 2004 at the age of 19, and notched his first winner a short time later at Del Mar on Aug. 11, aboard a horse named Quiten Boy, at odds of 45/1.
Head east, young man
Cohen later moved his tack to the eastern seaboard and secured riding titles at Philadelphia Park (Parx) and Delaware Park before settling in New York. In 2009, he ranked sixth in the nation in wins, and in 2010, he was the second leading rider among the big boys at the New York ovals, losing the riding title to Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez.
In 2012, Cohen was having one of the best years of his career when he showed up at Saratoga for the Travers Stakes to ride a longshot named Golden Ticket. He would take on Alpha, a three-time stakes winner and the 2/1 favorite from the popular Godolphin barn.
As the race went off, both colts stalked the early pace and secured good position. As they turned for home, Cohen and Golden Ticket shot through an opening on the rail and got clear in the stretch at odds of 33/1.
But the classy Alpha was launching a sustained bid of his own in the middle of the racetrack, and as Golden Ticket tired a bit nearing the wire, Alpha surged to make it a photo finish. The result was a dead-heat, which remains the only such outcome in the 149 runnings of the Travers. Cohen just about carried a tired Golden Ticket to the wire.
The pain train
On Feb. 1, 2014, David Cohen walked into the paddock at Aqueduct and was about to climb aboard a horse named Recoupe. He didn’t have a clue that this horse would change his life dramatically. As Cohen stepped to the side of the horse, Recoupe suddenly reared and kicked outward striking Cohen in the right leg, badly fracturing his fibula and tibia, which required surgery involving a plate and six screws.
Cohen worked to get back in the game and managed to come back to ride nine months after suffering his injury. He rode for a week and competed in six races, but the rider had returned too soon. His injuries had not healed to the point of him being ready to ride.
In the midst of trying to heal from his physical injuries, Cohen would also encounter some major mental challenges. His father became seriously ill and eventually succumbed to complications from cancer.
“Growing up, my father had been in the business as an owner and a trainer,” Cohen said. “As a family, we would go to Del Mar for the summer. My brother, sister and Mom would go to the beach, and I would go to the racetrack as a young kid. I was glued to my father’s side. When I became a jockey, he went to work with me all the time. He went around with me everywhere, to Dubai, to Japan. He got to experience everything with me. We were close as can be. We were inseparable.”
Cohen was trying to inch forward and recover from his physical issues, as well as deal with the pain of his father’s death, when he was hit with yet another personal tragedy. His older sister, Dana, had died suddenly from a head injury.
“Even though she was my older sister, I played that older brother role,” Cohen said. “She and I were very close. The two closest people in my immediate family were taken away from within a year-and-a-half of one another.”
Cohen took some time off and struggled for a good while but eventually figured out what he needed to do. He missed the track and his buddies. He missed the competition and the horses, and he even missed riding in the mud. David Cohen needed to ride again to heal.
Let the healing begin
On November 30, 2017, at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Cohen saddled up for his first race back after a three-and-a-half-year absence. He finished fourth on the muddy racetrack that he missed so dearly, but the comeback ride was every bit a winning trip for him — and the fans. The kid was back in the game.
Since his comeback, Cohen has been a busy fellow. He’s ridden at the Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, Woodbine, Del Mar, the New York ovals, and now he’s found a home at Oaklawn.
He’s ridden in over 9,000 races in his career and compiled over $50 million in earnings. He’s endured the physical pain of a shattered leg and the anguish of losing two loved ones, and he came back from it all. David Cohen, who was named comeback jockey of the year in 2018, is seasoned, weathered and as serious as a heart attack about the job he loves.
“I’m in a good place, doing what I love,” he said. “I’m just blessed to have the support from the trainers and owners and grateful to be in the position I’m currently in, after such a lengthy time off and a severe injury.”
David Cohen is a warrior who is glad to be back in the saddle, and we’re very happy to have him there.