Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reeves grabs the reins

Downs' newcomer fast out of gate with 7 wins

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Family lore has it that the first words ever uttered by Robert Reeves Jr. were: "They're off."

Now, that's a claim even Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn, who has called in excess of 15,000 races since beginning his horse racing career as a press box runner in 1982, can't make.

Reeves, who turns 33 on July 4, can't recall his first words, but remembers that as a tot his name for a horse was "Baa baa."

"My father used to put me up on his shoulders when I was real little, and I'd always want to go right down to the rail; right when they'd run the route races in front of the apron at Turfway Park, in West Virginia. I always wanted to be able to see them all break out. They told me my first words were, 'they're off,' and I think that's pretty neat."

On his fourth birthday, Reeves got his first set of silks, and a Caliente riding helmet, courtesy of his grandmother.

It could be said that the junior Reeves is living out his late father's dream. "He was shorter than me, but had a stocky build," explained the son. "He had his own painting business but also galloped horses in the morning. He was naturally 125 lbs., but was really stocky, so whenever he tried to get light enough to ride a race, it was too difficult.

"My father pushed for me to be a jockey," said Reeves, "and ever since I was four or five years old, I also wanted to be a jockey.

"I probably jumped on my first horse when I was nine years old," said the Cincinnati-born rider, who has plied his trade up and down the east coast until coming here this spring. "I was with Dave Ashberry (Ashberry Acres). He had a training farm, and my father worked for him."

It was there that Reeves fell in love with horse racing and aspired to become a jockey. Since then, he has amassed 5,294 wins lifetime, including six trips to the winners' circle last weekend for a total of seven wins, making him the very early leader in the jockey's room with one more victory than Paul Nolan.

Three-time Downs' leading jockey Rohan Singh is tied with Tim Moccasin and Jerry Pruitt for third, each with three victories.

Reeves was forced to take a little bit of time off last year after shattering his left wrist and thumb at Mountaineer Park, in West Va., last July. "My horse stumbled with me after the wire. I didn't take the time off I needed right away, and kept on riding. Soon I just couldn't ride any more, and I had to go to an orthopaedic surgeon and get it all straightened out. Then there was about eight weeks of rehabilitation, but the thumb's great now."

With the season just entering its second full weekend, Reeves is cautious about making any predictions, but does admit that it feels good to shake the early jitters. "I kind of fit all my horses right off the bat," he said. "I've been working really hard at it, got settled in really fast and things just fell into place.

"They're all good riders," he said of his competition, "and everybody is working their tail ends off, hustling really hard. But nothing in this game is easy, and I think that with the pressure, it will just bring out more of a performance in me."

Reeves, whose professional riding career began in 1997, picked up his working knowledge on various eastern U.S. tracks, from Turfway Park in Kentucky, to Laurel Park in Maryland, to Pimlico in Baltimore and others in between. "I gather knowledge wherever I go, picking up a lot riding with jockeys like Edgar Prado and Mark Johnston. There's so many great riders all over. When you ride alongside them, they can do nothing but teach you."

Jockey agent Tim Gardiner, who along with Irwin Driedger and Dick Armstrong, have won the Downs leading rider title four times, gets the credit for bringing Reeves north of the border for the first time.

"I had options to go back to Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana," said Reeves. "I was in Florida and I liked it down there, but the meet was ending in Tampa. That was when Tim began calling me and asking me to come here."

Reeves has four mounts tonight and seven more on Saturday, with post time at 7 p.m., both days. Monday's Victoria Day program goes to post at 1 p.m.

petto@shaw.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2012 C5

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