Rico’s got the winning touch
Some call him “the quiet one” while others describe him as the “iceman,” meaning he is cool, no fuss.
Yet another label is “humble horse whisperer”.
But an expert in the field describes the Bajan in straightforward terms: a candidate for a sovereign award in Canada.
The athlete in question is Rico Walcott who at 24 years old is North America’s most successful jockey in 2013.
With 145 wins from 457 mounts this year, a 32 winning percentage, the young man who learned to ride in his native Barbados, migrated to Edmonton in 2007 and has been highly successful ever since.
He is considered Canada’s top jockey, a description fastened onto Walcott by Edmonton Journal, one of Alberta’s leading daily papers, which, by the way, recently called him “a humble horse whisperer”, who quietly rides but routinely emerges victorious at Northlands Park in one of Canada’s richest provinces.
When you add his 90 second place finishes to his wins in the saddle, he has amassed the amazing statistic of coming in the top two in more than 50 per cent of his races.
Inspite of those numbers, the soft spoken sports figure and the father of a two-year-daughter, Sundai, doesn’t see the necessity to blow his own trumpet.
“While a lot of top athletes want you to know how great they are, Rico is just the opposite,” Chris Robert, the Northlands Park venue director and racing manager, told the Edmonton Journal. “He could walk through the grandstand and not have anyone even recognize him. And you certainly wouldn’t hear him.”
What has drawn public attention to Walcott are some of his outstanding achievements:
• Less than a month ago, the Bajan rode in eight races, won five and came in second in the other three. It was the third time this year that he has had five races in a day.
• In June, he successfully piloted horses in six races one day.
• He rode Broadway Empire, the Canadian Derby winner, to victory in the Oklahoma Derby. On the way from Canada to the American City, he “might have spoken three words all the way down” to the track, said Tim Gordon, a successful Alberta thoroughbred owner. “He was as quiet and reserved as always.”
• At Northlands, alone, Walcott has won twice the number of races as his nearest rival, an apprentice rider.
• He is perhaps the most sought after jockey in Canada today. There are more than 1 000 licensed men of the saddle in the country and he is said to be top of the list of most owners and trainers across the land.
Walcott went to Canada, following in the footsteps of his brother, Ricky Walcott, 31, who is now back in Barbados riding.
“When Ricky started riding I wanted to ride too,” said Rico. “I also had a friend in Barbados, Ricky Griffith. He was a rider too and his dad, Godfrey, would take me out on evenings and teach me how to ride.”
Naturally, his success story has forced owners, trainers and racing journalists to ask the important question: how come he is so good?
“I don’t know. I just ride,” Walcott said recently.
Robertino Diodoro, who trains Broadway Empire and 70 other thoroughbreds, thinks he knows the answer.
“For a young guy, he’s very patient and he has very soft hands,” Diodoro said.
Another trainer, Rod Cone, uses the Bajan rider extensively and is convinced that Walcott’s approach to winning or losing tells much of the story.
Walcott, he said, “has a plan when he comes out and he never thinks he is going to lose. Even on a long shot. He never quits riding either. He rides everything to the wire.”
Another view is that he isn’t afraid to take chances, especially going through a space on the rails.
“I go through. I am not afraid,” explained the son of Charles Walcott, who owns race horses. “I’m not afraid.”
The man who picks Walcott’s mounts and to whom the Bajan gives much of the credit is his agent Bob Fowlis, who does the handicapping and selects the best mounts for him to ride, also has a point of view.
‘I usually pick the horses myself, but if Rico has been on two or three horses in an upcoming race I’d ask him which horse he wants to ride. He is a strong. He’s particularly strong down the stretch. He can out-finish a lot of jockeys.”
Little wonder, then, that people in the racing fraternity believe he is a prime candidate for a sovereign award as Canada’s top jockey.
“Walcott has to be given consideration,” argued the Edmonton Journal.
“At the very least, he has to be in the conversation,” insisted Roberts.
What’s next for Canada’s top jockey? Some racing enthusiasts think he should seek glory in another kingdom, meaning he should ride in other places, Toronto for instance.
“I am happy here,” was all he would say when the question was put to him. “My mother told me not to rush anything.”