by JIM WELLS
How does a fellow celebrate a career accomplishment he didn’t know was imminent until a day or two earlier?
If young Ry Eikleberry waits a couple of weeks he won’t be able to celebrate anything. He’s scheduled to undergo a touch-up on the laser surgery he had done previously and will follow that by having his wisdom teeth extracted.
“I told my mom that should be one hell of a vacation,” Eikleberry said. “I won’t be able to see her or talk to her.”
That wasn’t the case on Thursday night. Eikleberry was able to talk quite intelligibly to his mother, who was on the phone from Arizona moments after he set a meet record for wins by a quarter horse rider.
“She left me a message and I called her back,” said Eikleberry, who’ll join her for a family reunion after the Canterbury Park meet concludes on Labor Day.
Eikleberry rode Dashing Paco to a dead heat victory with Two to Get Ready, ridden by Anne Von Rosen, in the final race on Thursday’s card, a 300-yard dash for maidens. The win was Eikleberry’s 24th, which puts him 10 wins in front of four-time Canterbury riding champ Tad Leggett, wrapping up the 2008 title. It also was one more win than the meet record set by Jerry Winters in 1992.
“I honestly had no idea about it (the record) until my agent, Chuck Diton, brought it up the other day,” Eikleberry said. “Yesterday morning it came up again in the racing office. It came again in the paddock shortly before he mounted Dashing Paco. “Somebody said to me that I was going to be the all-time leader for wins in a meet with just one more.”
Eikleberry said he wished he could have hit the milestone a bit differently. “I wish it didn’t happen in a dead heat,” he said. “When you’re on a 6-5 shot it’s best not to have a dead heat, but I guess it is better than finishing second.”
It’s a whole lot better than finishing second, which is what Eikleberry expected while awaiting judgment on the photo finish.
“I actually thought I got beat to be honest with you,” he said.
The dead heat was Eikleberry’s second this meet, both times on quarter horses, and the third of his career.
“No, I didn’t know anything about the record,” said the meet’s top quarter horse trainer, Ed Ross Hardy, who conditions Dashing Paco. “He came out of the gate a little bad. The horse hopped a little, but he (Ry) did a good job.”
Eikleberry has won 24 quarter horse races from 69 mounts for just under $180,000 in purse earnings. He’s done all right for himself on the thoroughbreds as well. He’s won 40 races, finished second on 49 others and third on 45 from 309 mounts for earnings of $547,615.
Eikleberry won the quarter horse riding title at Turf Paradise in Phoenix last winter and finished third in the thoroughbred standings, which he has just about matched at Canterbury this summer. His success is no surprise to Hardy.
“I think he has an open mind. He’ll listen,” Hardy said. “He has a lot of drive and want-to. He tries real hard, he works really hard in the morning. Those are all key factors. He wants to win and he learns quickly.”
His work ethic is what seems to impress Hardy most about Eikleberry, who won’t turn 20 until January.
“He puts in his time and he learns,” Hardy said. “It’s not easy to be a rider and learn to manipulate horses, to get them down the track. Some of then need a stick here or there, at just the right time. He does what it takes to learn.”
Eikleberry has a long, lean body that could make trouble for him as he matures. He is 5-foot-9 and is easily identifiable in the saddle. “I stick up kind of high,” he agreed. His build could make it more difficult to keep weight off in the coming years, although it’s not a big problem for him at this point.
“I struggle a little,” he said. “I don’t have to kill myself to do 115. I watch what I eat. I hit the (sweat) box a little.”
Eikleberry will spend a week with his mother while visiting relatives in Kansas when the Canterbury meet concludes. He will begin working horses at Turf Paradise a short time after undergoing his laser and oral surgeries. He’ll benefit in more than one way by having his wisdom teeth extracted.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “I won’t be able to sit around and eat.”