A Day to Remember
On a rainy Sunday afternoon on a muddy track at Prescott Downs, Pat Day experienced the thrills of winning for the first time in his budding career as a jockey.
From that victory on July 29, 1973, Day went on to establish himself as one of horse racing's all-time greats in a Hall of Fame career that spanned three-plus decades. Day, then 19 years old, entered the winner's circle aboard Forblunged, who he had just guided to victory in a seven-furlong claiming race.
"We went to get a picture taken (in the winner's circle) but the track photographer's camera malfunctioned," Day said Wednesday during a telephone interview from Louisville, Ky. "I later got a black-and-white copy of the photo finish."
Day, 52, returns to the Prescott area for the first time since the summer of 1973. Over the years, he often thought about making a trip back but always ended up getting too busy with his career and other commitments. Saturday marks the 33-year anniversary of Day's inaugural victory and he will be on hand at Yavapai Downs to sign autographs and meet the public.
The 4-foot-11 Day had the required physical attributes to get into the jockey profession. After a short stint riding in rodeos, Day eventually met up with trainer Karl Pew, who paid him $2 per horse to work his horses in the morning.
"In July, I really got the itch to start riding and with Karl being my contract holder, he allowed me to ride a few of his horses," Day said. "I started riding a couple of weekends prior to winning my first race. Once I started, I rode every weekend."
In those days, Prescott Downs held meets only on Saturdays and Sundays with nine thoroughbred and four quarterhorse races.
On July 29, Day climbed aboard Forblunged in a race with a $631 purse.
"I remember it was a rainy, old nasty day," Day said. "We had ridden several races on the card and it was the last race of the day. This horse came from way out of it Š came out of the shadow to win."
Afterward, the other jockeys put Day through a, well, sort of celebration.
"I recall vividly how they (other jockeys) initiated me," Day said. "They painted me with leather dye and poured stuff on me to welcome me to the ranks of riders."
The winner's share of the purse was $347 and with the jockey getting 10 percent of that, Day earned $34.70 for the ride.
"It was awesome. They pay me to ride the race and if I win, I'm making more money," Day said of his early earnings. "I turned out to be right where I belonged."
Over the course of his career, Day earned $297.9 million and ranks No. 1 on the all-time jockey earnings list.
"I didn't know it could get any better," Day said of his first payday. "I had been participating in rodeos prior to the race track. There, you pay an entry fee, hope you draw something that can buck good enough to get you to the pay window, and then you've got to make the buzzer."
After Prescott Downs, Day went on with Pew to Pomona, Fresno and then to Turf Paradise for the winter. On Labor Day weekend that year, he rode eight winners and began to make a name for himself. Over his illustrious career, Day won 8,803 races to rank fourth all-time behind Laffit Pincay, Russell Baze and Willie Shoemaker. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1991.
While in Prescott, Day shared a small travel trailer with another jockey in a park not far from the track. The trailer belonged to Steve Talbot, a clerk of scales Day had met in Las Vegas.
Day, who left a life of alcohol and drugs behind when he found Jesus Christ in January 1984, said he will spend the morning promoting the Race Track Chaplaincy. After visiting the barn area and meeting various types of personnel, he will conduct a noon devotional prayer with the riders. Then all afternoon, he will conduct an autograph session in a meet-and-greet with the public. And later that evening, he'll address a group about what has happened over his lifetime.
"I'm anxious to see Prescott. I hear it's grown a lot Š nothing stays the same," Day said. "I look forward to renewing old acquaintances and making new acquaintances."
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