Dawn at the Track with Kentucky Derby Winning Jockey Stewart Elliott

Dawn at the Track with Kentucky Derby Winning Jockey Stewart Elliott

NORTH HOUSTON – A rider’s day starts early. At Sam Houston Race Park, training begins before sunrise.

For champion jockey Stewart Elliott, meeting the sun at a racetrack somewhere across the country has been part of his morning routine for more than 40 years.

Another day at the office.

Sunrise at Sam Houston Race Park (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston – All Rights Reserved)

“He’s just blowing, just the breeze,” Elliott said as he adjusted the straps on the dark bay horse that had headed to the track for training. All early starts are about race day preparation. Elliott said horses are like, “athletes. They have to be fit and conditioned. So we’ll work them, you know, half a mile, five-eighths of a mile, just get them ready and we’ll keep them in shape… keep them in shape for the races.”

It takes about fifteen minutes to ride the horse out and around the track. Back at the barn, a team of grooms will not only get the horse ready to go out, but after the horses return, the team strips, sweats, and ties the horse to a clothesline. . More simply known as a hot walker, the mechanical device can walk up to four horses at a time and is an important step after running horses. Keeping a horse moving helps to cool gently by allowing blood and oxygen to continue to move trapped heat from the horses muscles.

Early Morning Horse Training at Sam Houston Race Park (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston – All Rights Reserved)

Elliott lives in Kentucky, but is rarely home. “It might be two or three times a year,” he said. Otherwise, he’s going from track to track after the season. The 2023 season is his fourth race at Sam Houston Race Park. Riding for trainer Steve Asmussen keeps bringing him back. With the win, Asmussen is the top coach in North America. Elliot has also racked up an impressive amount of wins in his career. Almost five thousand five hundred and counting. However, he said his 2004 Kentucky Derby victory riding Smarty Jones is the highlight by a long shot.

“Oh, that was great,” he said. His silvery blue eyes shining, a big smile crept across his face. He was back in the moment, feeling the historic journey. “First of all, it’s exciting just to be there. You know, to be in that race. But to win it was like, I can’t even explain it. I have been asked hundreds of times. It’s something I can’t explain, the way you feel.”

When Elliott won the Kentucky Derby, he was the first jockey in a quarter century to do so in his first appearance in the race. “This is a special race,” he told Houston Life reporter Melanie Camp.

Houston Life’s Melanie Camp chats with Kentucky Derby winner Stewart Elliott (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston – All Rights Reserved)

While every race looks like a frenetic run as a spectator, Elliot said from where the rider sits, it’s much more controlled, “there’s a plan and there’s a strategy,” he explained. “Rhythm is always in your mind. You know how fast to go and where you need to be in the race, and you try to get a position according to the horse you’re riding and the way the race is going.”

When dealing with each horse and their different personalities, Elliott said his secret to riding a tricky horse is “just try to get along with them. Sometimes you can tell something about a horse about what he likes and what he doesn’t like, but basically try to understand with them.”

At this point in his career, Stuart has had over 34,000 starts and has won hundreds of millions of dollars. As for the exact number, “you have to look it up. Because I’ve been doing it for so long.” Elliot doesn’t take home all the money he earns. There are cuts to coaches and agents. However, it is clear that he made a good choice when, as a 16-year-old, he decided to become a professional rider.

Elliott’s father had also been a rider, but had to bow out after struggling for a long time to keep his weight down, Elliott explained. While Elliott senior eventually made the transition to coaching. Elliott junior, took up the track where his father left off.

Weight limits seem to be a constant consideration for all riders, Elliot said some struggle more than others, but at 57, he said he no longer has to battle his weight in the same way as an older rider. new. “Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I don’t know.” He said eating healthy has helped and he only allows himself one meal a day, “Dinner”.

His exercise regime is horse riding. Elliott gets all of his training done during a morning workout at the track. Sitting on the horse for several minutes straight, core tight and arms engaged, keeping the reins taut. In the offseason, he said he “might go for a run” if his weight threatens to climb.

Still riding strong, decades after his first start as a teenager, Elliot said as long as he’s still feeling good and “business is good,” he’ll keep racing. He loves horses. “Since I was little, I have always been close to him. I grew up around them.” If he hadn’t liked horses, he said: “I probably would have chosen something else. Right?”

Catch Stewart Elliot’s ride at Sam Houston Race Park this season.

Races run every weekend, Friday through Sunday and special holidays through mid-June. General admission is only $5. Find out more online here.

Watch the Houston Life feature on Jockey Stewart Elliott in the video above.

Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston – All rights reserved.

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