victory was never sweeter for Juan Crawford than Wednesday night when he rode Sunday Samurai into the winner's circle after the fourth race at Assiniboia Downs.
It was his first win since May 15, when he was thrown 50 feet into the infield during the fifth race when his ride, Early Edition, tried to jump the fence along the backstretch. Miraculously, Crawford escaped without serious injury, but was forced to miss four race days. Early Edition had to be euthanized.
"It sure did (feel great)," said the native of Barbados. "I waited a long time for it. I got close in my first start back (finished second May 26 aboard four-year-old filly Black Iris). I don't feel any pain while I am riding, so that's the most important thing."
Crawford also picked up a third-place finish on June 4 aboard Prince Jenna.
Crawford said that he and trainer Clayton Gray discussed Wednesday's race prior to the start. "We realized there were two other speed horses in the race, but (Sunday Samurai) had the aggressive speed to be there, or to be leading. So we decided I would just sit off of them, so I just waited for my time."
The form chart stated that Sunday Samurai "took over into the stretch, opened up and held well," to finish 1.2 lengths in front of Heap Wampum (Rohan Singh) and Megabuck (Gary Baze). Said Crawford of his ride down the lane: "I got a little aggressive with him and he responded to everything. He fought on, giving me something."
Crawford believes his fighting spirit is what has brought him back from that fateful May 15 accident, but there was never any doubt in his mind that he would be back.
"After all these years, you know, that's a very big part of me," he said describing what he felt the first time he entered the starting gate on May 26. "I was just eager to get it done. I had a decent little horse so I didn't worry about that. I've had many falls before, but that was the first time I ever had one that jumped over the rail. I just thought this is just another hurdle. Once the gate opened, everything was good."
The fact that his wife Jillian and children Melchisedek (6), Zion (2) and Cherubim (five months), were with him when he was injured was invaluable in helping him recover.
"My wife was supposed to go home (Regina) on May 16," he explained. "Then after I fell she decided to stay because I would need some help. I could barely move around for about three days or so.
"After that I was still supposed to be in bed, but I was like a horse in a stall too long -- I get miserable. So I started getting up and around to get myself better again."
Jillian, Zion and Cherubim are still living at the Downs with Crawford, but Melchisedek has gone back to Regina with his grandmother to finish up school.
With only 32 rides for three wins, one second and four thirds, Crawford has a lot of catching up to do, just to get into the top five group of riders, which includes Vicky Baze (17 wins), Tyrone Nelson (16), Larren Delorme (15), Gary Baze (14) and Janine Stianson (10).
"I was really hoping at the start of the year to have a shot at the championship," he said. "But the setback took some of the horses out from under me and everybody was getting lots of other races. Some of the riders like Tyrone, Delorme, the Bazes and Janine, are dominating."
Jockey of the Year is pretty much out of his reach at this stage, but he believes he can still play the role of spoiler.
"I'm still trying to get myself fully back in order, and give them the chase of their lifetime."
To do that, he says he needs not only rides, but the right kind of horses under him. "I need a horse -- even if he is not the best horse in the race -- he needs to put up some kind of a fight, because I'm a fighter. I am not going to give up.
"A horse has to be willing to give me an effort. I can use some ability and skill to really turn tables on the favourites, with just that little bit of heart that the horses have."
Crawford isn't scheduled to ride today, but has two mounts Saturday. Watch for him in the six-furlong third race on Straight Draw and again in the six-furlong fifth aboard Battle Design.
Saturday's program will also feature the six-furlong, $30,000 La Verendrye Stakes for fillies and mares, three years and older. Post time both days is 7 p.m.