Pat Day’s first time on horseback did not hold any clues of the spectacular career that lay ahead. As a second-grader, his father, Mickey, hoisted him aboard an unbroken pony. The pony took off with young Pat aboard, the boy jumped off crying, but his dad put him back aboard and made him ride.
“My dad worked as an auto body man, but maintained a ranch and that’s where we lived. He broke and trained all of the neighbor’s horses, and he broke and trained my brother and me. I loved horses from the start, and I was very competitive, too. I wrestled in high school, with some success.”
Day was born on the eastern plains of Colorado, but grew up on the western slope. Working in the ranching community of Eagle he aspired to become a pro rodeo cowboy. After graduating from Eagle Valley High School in 1971 he did live his dream, spending two years on the rodeo circuit.
His small stature eventually led him down a different path. It was still Pat and a horse, but instead of hanging on to dear life, the task was to manage a horse at full speed to the front of the pack.
In January of 1973, Pat began a career as a jockey when a friend helped him get a job at Riverside Thoroughbred Farm in southern California. He won his first race in July of ’73, riding Foreblunged at Prescott Downs in Arizona. There were many more to come.
Few know just how tough Day’s line of work is. Pat stands 4’11”, and keeps his weight at 100 pounds. Pound for pound, jockeys are maybe the greatest athletes in the world, and they ride 365 days a year. Still, in simple terms, Pay Day has taken one of the toughest, and most demanding jobs in sports, and turned it into his domain.
Four times he’s won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s best jockey, and was an Eclipse finalist again in 2001. He put together another sensational year that saw him win more rces, and more money, than any other jockey.
The winningest jockey in Churchill Downs’ history, he won the Kentucky Derby aboard Lil E Tee in 1992. Pay Day also has made a collection of other Triple Crown races. There are five Preakness Stakes (Tank’s Prospect, Summer Squall, Tabasco Cat, Timber Country, and Louis Quatorze), and three Belmont Stakes (Easy Goer, Tabasco Cat and Comendable.)
Already in Racing’s Hall of Fame, he has won more races and more money in the Breeder’s Cup than any other rider in history. It is clear that when he walks away (if he ever quits), Pat Day will leave behind maybe the greatest riding career in thoroughbred racing history.
I know there’s a Derby out there with my name on it.