Feeling a little like the old singing cowboy Gene Autry, Jerry Pruitt is glad to be "back in the saddle again."
Mind you, Pruitt doesn't ride the range while strumming a guitar. He will, however, ride Maub, a Manitoba-bred dark brown filly out of Smile Again-Cemmec by Rebmec, in the sixth race tonight at Assiniboia Downs. The morning line has Maub a 15-1 long shot over the six furlongs, but as far as Pruitt is concerned, a horse is a horse. At least for now.
"Yeah (it feels good to be back)," Pruitt said Thursday. "I've been getting pretty bored."
On Saturday he's riding Tony's Lil Polly, a mare he rode to a third on May 15, his last race since breaking an ankle at the track a week after opening day, May 10.
Pruitt first sprained the ankle on May 10 when Little Known Fact tossed him in the gate. A week later, the same horse tossed him again, this time in front of the grandstand during a morning workout.
"I took him to the gate and he was fine," Pruitt recalled. "He didn't do nothing wrong in the gate. But then I was backtracking him home and right by the grandstand he lunged into the air like he did in the gate that day and he collided with another horse, knocking us (the other rider) both off, and that was when I (compound) fractured the ankle. When he hit that other horse he hit him hard."
Just turned 58, the 11th all-time leading jockey at Assiniboia Downs, with 790 wins, can't remember how many horses he's ridden. "But I have won more than 4,000 races," he said. "I do know that."
A native of San Diego, Pruitt has raced in some of the best tracks in the United States, including Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. In "1986 or '87," he was ranked 10th in the American Jockey Standings. So far this year he has two races under his belt, with only one third-place finish.
Pruitt, one of the most consistent jockeys in 15 years at the Downs, has never won the leading-jockey title there, and he's pretty sure it isn't going to happen this year. "I don't know, its a little bit late now so I'm not really worried about it. I've been a leading rider everywhere (other tracks), so I'm not worried about it."
Pruitt has actually been galloping horses for a good two weeks now, and though jockey's insurance has been paying his way since the accident, he says he's ready to start making some real money. "I'm not feeling the pinch yet," he said, adding that it helps that his wife, Lise Pruitt, is a trainer at the Downs. "It works good," he said, adding he met Lise about five years after coming here. "We're a good team together. We also have two girls going to school here."
Lise says that he doesn't complain a whole lot about the horses she provides for him to ride. "No, we get along pretty good. I know he tries really hard and the horses try real hard for him, and that's all you want. He's never been hurt too many times, so this is kind of new to us, but it happens, I guess. This is a dangerous business." Actually, Pruitt says he broke his collarbone in Miami once and his other ankle when he was 21 while riding quarter-horses.
While racing at the big American tracks, Pruitt said that Brooke Mobley, a trainer he was riding for at Yakima, Wash., said he wanted to go to another track, so "I said I'd go with him. He said it was in Canada, so I said, 'I've never been there, so I'll go too.
"I did really good the first year. I think I won seven stakes races. I was riding for Tom Dodd then, but now I just ride for anybody, but mostly for my wife."
Altough he'll do his best to bring Maub to the winner's circle today, at 15-1, he may have to settle for just hitting the board.