Almost 45 years on the back of a horse -- under the baking California sun, driving West Coast rain and freezing spring temperatures at Assiniboia Downs -- have turned 61-year-old jockey Jerry Pruitt's face into a virtual road map.
The lines are the trademarks of the wear and tear his kind of work imposes on the body. It is also a testament to the will, determination and perseverance he has poured into his quest to be the best he could be at his chosen sport.
The San Diego native began his journey on tracks up and down the West Coast and Midwest United States. In 1990, he gambled on coming north and has been riding here ever since.
He's never won a major title, and for the past few years, the rides have been getting fewer and fewer. While that puzzles him, it hasn't dampened his spirit. His overall outlook on life, however, has changed. Even though younger jockeys tend to get the better rides, the 10th all-time leading jockey at ASD with 824 wins still has a fire in his belly. While he believes getting good rides and winning is important, equally so is his family.
These days, most of his rides are on horses his wife Lisa owns and/or trains. This year, Brady, his son from a previous marriage, joined him on weekends at 5 a.m., and the two can be seen on the training track working horses side by side. Back at the barn, his daughters Lexi, 12, and Cierra, 10, are often found helping their mom Lisa.
"He can handle himself, but he's still a little green," said Pruitt of his 18-year-old son. "I started teaching him at the farm (near Headingley). Then came here, and I found some horses that he could gallop, so that he could gain trust in himself. He learns very fast for a young kid.
At 120 pounds, its unlikely Brady will ever be a jockey. Still, he likes riding with his dad. "I just love horses. I love riding them and being on the track." He adds the best advice he's gotten from his dad is, "Keep the attention of the horse and know your surroundings. Also, always be aware of anything around you. That's pretty much it."
Pruitt thinks Cierra is the most likely of his daughters to follow in his footsteps. "She's been riding for quite a while now. When she is 16, she's going to start coming here and galloping. That's how I see it."
According to equibase.com, Pruitt has 19,210 starts, with 2,522 wins over the course of his career. Last season, he had 13 wins in 159 trips.
Pruitt won his first race at Del Mar racetrack 32 kilometres north of San Diego. "I was only 19 then," he recalled, adding he couldn't remember the horse's name. But it was at Yakima Meadows in Spokane, Wash., in 1976 where his career really took off. "On opening day, I won five races."
He says he's been fortunate he's never had to worry about making weight. "I never had to worry about diets, cutting back, flipping (purging) like some other guys do, or sweating in the box. I feel young, like I'm still in my 40s." He's also managed to avoid most major injuries. "The only time I have ever had a broken bone was at a bush (unsanctioned) track in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on a quarter horse. The horse flipped and I broke my ankle, but I had another ride. "They told me to take my boot off, but I said, no. I knew this horse would win, and all I had to do was just hang onto him. After I won, they took the boot off and my ankle swelled up like a balloon. They had to put a screw in it."
Pruitt knows his days are numbered as a jockey, but he believes he still has some good rides left in him.
He has four rides tonight and three more on Saturday. Monday's Victoria Day lineup was unavailable. Post time tonight and tomorrow is 7:30 p.m. On Monday it is 1:30 p.m.