No one could have predicted what happened at Aqueduct on the afternoon of Jan. 18, 2013. Poised to receive his third consecutive Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey the following day, Ramon Dominguez was doing what he always did — trying to win another race, his 4,986th to be exact. On the far turn, approaching the top of the stretch, Dominguez waited for an opening to get his mount, Convocation, through a wall of horses.
But that opening never materialized.
In a matter of five or less horrific seconds, Convocation got tangled with another horse, violently tossing the champion jockey to the ground, to the shock of everyone watching. Things didn’t look good from the beginning, as Dominguez was rushed to a nearby hospital. Hours of anxiety followed that terrible scene, as family, friends and racing fans awaited news on his condition.
Dominguez was diagnosed with multiple skull fractures; and further exploration at the intensive care unit revealed traumatic brain injury. He was soon transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in White Plains, NY, where he went through a therapy process.
His prognosis was good… but not good enough to return to riding.
In a statement on June 13, 2013, Dominguez said: “It is extremely difficult for me to announce that due to the severity of the injuries I sustained, my professional riding career has come to an end. While I hoped and even expected to be able to return to the saddle, as a result of my injuries and upon the advice of my treating physicians, it has been determined that I will no longer be able to pursue my career as a jockey.”
It was an abrupt end to an illustrious career, one that now has made him a member of Racing’s Hall of Fame. That sudden turn of events deeply impacted Dominguez’s attitude. The public figure changed to a very private one. He chose to stay away from the track, the fans and the media — his daily companions for years. Aside from his wife and kids, few people had access to the now-retired star.
It was a struggle for Dominguez trying to deal with his new situation.
“It wasn’t easy for me,” Dominguez told me over the phone. “I don’t even recall what happened the first three weeks after the spill. And, nowadays, I can hardly remember a few things from the next three months… you know, it’s hard to digest. I couldn’t do my job anymore, and that made me feel sad, but I always have had the love and support of my family, and that support gave me the strength to go on.”
It took some time, but finally Dominguez began to seek change. His wife, Sharon, was instrumental in this process, giving him all the help and patience needed to regain focus. Dominguez underwent different types of treatments, including equine therapy at a small facility close to Saratoga Springs, NY that helps war veterans. Soon, he understood that ending a career does not mean that life is over. He just had to reinvent himself.
The first step was a logical one: going back to the track. Dominguez lives close to Belmont Park, so there he went. It wasn’t easy the first time, but it felt good. Getting back in touch with the people he used to hang out with on a daily basis was very important.
“Sharon made me return to the track, and I thank her for that,” says Dominguez. “She always insisted from the beginning and I was reluctant, but at the end I accepted and went back to Belmont. That sure was a change I needed.”
In a short time, Dominguez was back helping the Race Track Chaplaincy of America. He has assisted many backstretch workers, mostly anonymously, as part of his charitable duties. Dominguez has also become more active as an ambassador for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) and has visited many tracks across America, raising awareness of the risks that a jockey confronts on a daily basis.
Alongside his wife, Dominguez is a motivational speaker, posting videos about personal growth on his Facebook page and sharing his thoughts and experiences with thousands of followers worldwide. He has also done some media work as a commentator for the Spanish broadcast of the Horse Racing Radio Network. Dominguez is also involved in a network marketing project, an activity he finds very interesting.
Although his riding career is over, Dominguez has found a way to live his passions in other ways.
He has reinvented himself.