The Week in Review: Remarkable Streak Connects Ouzts to Pre-Secretariat Era

Perry Ouzts | John Engelhardt

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When Perry Ouzts wired the field aboard an 8-1 maiden filly named Caberneigh (Munnings) at Turfway Park last Wednesday night, the 69-year-old jockey established a milestone that garnered little notice in the racing world. The victory extended Ouzts's remarkable streak of having ridden at least one winner in a calendar year to 52 consecutive seasons.

Think about the scope of that accomplishment for a moment. On Apr. 2, 1973, Ouzts, then 18, rode his first lifetime winner on just his second day as a licensed apprentice, guiding home an Ohio-bred colt named Rablue on a raw, drizzly afternoon at now-defunct Beulah Park.

That first trip to the winner's circle for Ouzts occurred a little more than a month before Secretariat won the GI Kentucky Derby and then raced into immortality by sweeping the Triple Crown.

How many other direct, still-on-the-track competing connections to the pre-Secretariat era endure in our sport today? Not counting owners and trainers, the answer appears to be zero.

Ouzts has racked up 29 meet-leading riding titles at Ohio tracks alone, and just last August he passed David Gall to claim fifth position on the all-time winningest riders list in North America based on victories. The Jan. 16, 2024, win at Turfway upped Ouzts's career count to 7,420, making him the winningest currently active jockey on the continent.

Ahead of Ouzts on the all-time wins list are Russell Baze (12,842), Laffit Pincay, Jr. (9,530), Bill Shoemaker (8,833) and Pat Day (8,803).

Ouzts won't close that daunting 1,383-win gap to advance another spot on the list before his career comes to a close.

But with 53,146 lifetime starts and no publicly announced retirement plans, Ouzts does have a chance at 441 more mounts to get past Baze (53,587) and claim the North American record for most lifetime starts by a jockey, according to the rankings published by Equibase.

Although he's only ridden 10 horses so far this year, Ouzts's business tends to pick up considerably in the spring when Belterra Park returns to action. In the years 2021-23, he rode 592, 485 and 388 horses per season, respectively. Yes, his riding opportunities have been slowly declining, but the lifetime mounts record is still realistically within reach.

Framing Ouzts's years-of-victory streak by saying he's won “at least one” race per year for 52 years does understate his productivity quite a bit. He's ridden more than 100 winners per year close to 40 times (his exact yearly totals predate Equibase's full statistics, which only go back to 1976).

The only true outlier year was 2006, when Ouzts won just six races. That January he cracked four vertebrae, crushed a fifth, and suffered a compound arm fracture in a Turfway spill. Amazingly, prior to that accident, Ouzts had gone 14 years without a major injury.

Doctors told Ouzts, then 51, that he was millimeters away from being paralyzed and suggested he hang up his tack for good.

Ouzts was back riding 11 months later and hasn't stopped since.

Unlike the four jockeys ahead of him on the North American all-time wins list, Ouzts isn't in the Hall of Fame, although his name does occasionally get brought up as a worthy, blue-collar candidate.

This coming Thursday, when the sport celebrates the pinnacle of the profession at the Eclipse Awards in balmy Florida, Ouzts will be back in action under the lights at wintry Turfway, where he expects to add two more mounts to a career measured more in terms of toughness and durability than trophies.

'Phantom' Building Fandom…

Don't dismiss Track Phantom's wire-to-wire, 2 3/4-length score in the GIII Lecomte S. just because jockey Joel Rosario was able to secure the lead and milk the pace. This Steve Asmussen-trained son of Quality Road is now 3-for-3 around two turns, and while his wins might lack the flash and panache of peers ranked ahead of him on the Triple Crown trail, Track Phantom is building credibility by going out and executing his speed-centric tasks without being fazed by how the competition has tried to disrupt his rhythm on the front end.

Sent off at 7-5, Track Phantom broke fluidly from the outermost post in a field of six to clear rail-drawn 11-10 favorite and 'TDN Rising Star' Nash (Medaglia d'Oro). Although it initially appeared as if this maneuver might be requiring a costly expenditure of energy, when a first-quarter clocking of :24.01 lit up on the tote board, the tepid tempo allayed any fears that Rosario was asking too much too soon from his mount, who adeptly settled into a comfortable cadence at the head of the pack.

Track Phantom rolled through subsequent splits of :24.35 and :24.79 with Nash edging closer, but when Rosario sensed that rival was just half a length back three-eighths out, he nudged Track Phantom to open up, and the visual at the quarter pole foretold the story of the stretch run: Track Phantom clearly had more left, while Nash was flailing under desperate urging to find another gear.

Track Phantom cruised through the long Fair Grounds home straight  unopposed through a fourth quarter timed in :24.86, with a last sixteenth in :6.72. The final clocking of 1:44.73 translated into a Beyer Speed Figure of 90, improving on his previous four-race Beyer arc of 74, 81, 88 and 89.

Owned in partnership by L and N Racing, Clark Brewster, Jerry Caroom, and Breeze Easy, Track Phantom's “how he did it” progression rates just as highly as his “how fast” metrics. The Lecomte win now marks three straight races in which this colt has been asked to deploy his early speed while figuring out how to best fight off better-positioned rivals to his inside.

'Fame' Was Faster, Though…

Track Phantom wasn't even the fastest sophomore colt out of the Asmussen barn to run 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds on Saturday. That 1:44.27 honor went to 10 1/4-length blowout maiden victor Hall of Fame (Gun Runner), who earned a 94 Beyer eight races earlier on the Jan. 20 card for the owner partnership of Magnier, Tabor, Smith, Westerberg, Gandharvi, and Rocket Ship Racing.

Backed to 4-5 favoritism in lifetime start number two, this $1.4-million FTSAUG colt forced markedly faster fractions from the rail than Track Phantom set, with Hall of Fame spending a good portion of his backstretch journey trying to squeeze inside of a persistent 7-2 pacemaker.

Also ridden by Rosario, Hall of Fame finally blasted through on the fence under mild far-turn urging, then ran up the score through the stretch while being kept to task before Rosario wrapped him up through the final 70 yards.

The gaudy winning margin was likely amplified by the fact that no other runners mounted serious late-race bids. But Hall of Fame scored with such commanding authority that it's logical to think a stakes engagement is next.

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