Had it not been for a fateful spill back in January Ramon Dominguez would be at Santa Anita next week to ride in the Breeders' Cup and he'd be on several horses with a real chance to win. Instead, he will be home watching the races on television, still unsure where life will take him next.
But even that -- being able to watch the Breeders' Cup -- is a step in the right direction.
"I tried not to watch the races for a while [after his January spill] because I wasn't in the right frame of mind to be doing that," Dominguez said. "Emotionally, it was too difficult. Now I enjoy watching them. "It's not like I am watching and saying, 'Oh, I wish I were there.'"
Dominguez went down on an otherwise ordinary day and was at first diagnosed with a fractured skull, which didn't seem to be anything that would end his career. By April he was telling people that problem was worse than previously thought and was actually a significant brain injury. Two months later he announced his retirement.
I don't really exactly know yet what I would do. I would definitely like to stay involved in horse racing.
”-- Retired jockey Ramon Dominguez
The figurative blow was devastating. Dominguez, at 36, was in the prime of his career and was well established as the premier jockey in the country. He had 4,985 wins and three straight Eclipse Awards (2010-2012) as the nation's champion jockey. Well-liked, respected, relatively young, Dominguez figured to be an unstoppable force in the sport for many years to come.
He couldn't hide the emotional toll it took on him. Upon his retirement, Dominguez, always cooperative with the media, declined all interview requests other than one from former jockey and current NYRA TV personality Richard Migliore. Eventually he made a handful of appearances at racetracks, among them Saratoga, to be honored. But that took some time and, to this day, he says he's not really interested in going to the track.
Not a lot has changed since he announced his retirement.
"As far as some exciting or something new, there isn't anything," Dominguez said.
What does he plan to do with his future?
"I don't really know," he said. "I would love to stay involved in racing. I don't really exactly know yet what I would do. There have been a few things that I have come across and I am still exploring but nothing really concrete yet. I would definitely like to stay involved in horse racing. It something I am really passionate about."
That could mean being a trainer, a jockey agent, a racing official. Or might he try to ride again? On that, the answer is somewhat vague.
"My passion for the sport will never change," he said. "It's just the facts that what happened and the doctors got in the way. You always have that hope, but there are the facts and there are your emotional feelings."
He says he is spending time with his wife and kids and trying to look to the future, not the past.
"I am spending time with the family and I have been jogging for a few weeks," Dominguez said. "I have two boys and that's [a] fulltime job for my wife and I. I have always tried to spend time with my family but it was minimized to some extent because I was always working. Now I have free time and I want to enjoy it before I get back to working."
Since he last rode in January it's hard to say which horses Dominguez might have been on in the Breeders' Cup had he not had his spill. But it would have been a lot of horses and a lot of good horses. That seemed to be a given. Now, Breeders' Cup Day will be spent on his couch, not exactly where a jockey wants to spend such an important afternoon. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much choice.
"Of course there is a part of you that will always identify with the sport and the job because it is something I did for most of my life," he said. "I actually enjoy watching the good races. At this point, it's something I have no problem with."
That sort of mindset can only help.
"I feel well. I am never looking at the glass being half empty," he said. "I have a great family and a lot to look forward to. I am looking forward to the next chapter. I just don't know yet what that chapter is."
Whatever that future may entail, you can only wish Ramon Dominguez all the best. A great jockey, a classy guy, he deserves nothing more than a future filled with contentment.