BY JIM WELLS
His first memory of the racetrack is still easily accessible – the smell of the backside, of a stall.
He wasn’t deterred.
“I walked around with a (riding) helmet on since the fourth grade. I always wanted to be a jockey.”
And Ronald Richard has been just that since 2011. He is practicing his trade this summer at Canterbury Park.
A native of Opelousas, La., Richard,21, speaks with a soft, Cajun accent as he discusses his introduction to horse racing, to the backside, the stables and the guidance of his father, who was training at the time.
“I was basically raised on the racetrack. I loved it there,” Richard said.
The route to Canterbury has been only slightly circuitous. Jockey agent Troy Bainum was headed home to Phoenix after the meet ended at Canterbury last autumn.
He had just left Raton, New Mexico, when his phone rang. It was a former rider he had represented, calling to tell Bainum about a friend of his, Richard, who was just finishing the meet at Emerald Downs.
Bainum looked up Richard’s statistics and watched a few of his races, deciding “this kid can ride.”
So, they hooked up for the meet in Phoenix and Richard wound up winning 60 races last winter, riding for a variety of stables, including several who move north to Shakopee each summer.
When Bainum makes his rounds of the barns he sells his rider with something along this lines:
“He’s one of the strongest finishers around,” Bainum said. “He can switch sticks in half a stride, and that’s going to make a difference down the stretch. Head to head down the lane it’s hard to get past him if he has any stock left.”
Richard is an affable, outgoing fellow willing to put in the morning work necessary to secure a few mounts. “He’s a charismatic kid who sells himself,” Bainum added.
“We’re hoping to get a few Minnesota guys (owners and trainers) to take a look at him.”
Richard got his first win at Sam Houston Race Park. “I got my license at Louisiana Downs,” Richard said, “and I learned on the Louisiana circuit, but my career got going in Texas.”
He is still learning, still taking advice and tips from more experienced riders, Glen Murphy for one.
“I met Glen at Sam Houston,” Richard said. “He was helpful, taught me a few things. I like learning from the riders I ride with.”
Another veteran helped him out at Turf Paradise last winter _ the meet’s leading rider, Canterbury Hall of Fame rider Scott Stevens.
“The older riders have a high IQ in the game. Those guys are real intelligent, their bodies don’t move the same,they know how to ride. You can always learn by watching them.”
Richard likes what he’s seen of Canterbury Park the last few weeks. He was impressed too that a fellow named Alex Canchari “came through here.”
“I did well at Turf Paradise,” Richard said. “Now it’s nice to move up to this level, with more money and a little better competition.”
Whatever he learns henceforth, he won’t forget those early, formative years.
And those initial lessons that came from his father.
“He was my agent,” Richard said. “We’d walk the backside. He’d get people to let me work their horses, gallop and breeze them and learn how to ride.”
His father has long since left the track for work in the oil fields, but he and his wife continue to keep track of their son, via the internet.
“They watch on a regular basis,” Richard said.
He’s hoping some of the local barns take a look as well.