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Justin Vitek, 36-year-old jockey, dies of leukemia


Justin Vitek, the well-traveled jockey who was diagnosed nearly two years ago with acute myelogenous leukemia, died early Thursday morning at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was 36.
Vitek grew up in the Houston area and began his riding career in 1993 at Sunland Park in New Mexico. After spending several years at Southwest tracks, he moved on to ride on several different circuits, including Southern California, Washington, Illinois, Minnesota, and for the last seven years of his career, in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.

While his leukemia was in remission, he rode four times at Turfway Park, including a touching comeback on Feb. 14, 2009, when he finished seventh on Model’s Memo.

Vitek (pronounced VEE-tek) rode 763 winners from 8,209 mounts for earnings of more than $9.88 million. His biggest win came in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2000 aboard Miss Pickums.

Vitek is survived by his daughter, Bree, 6, and by his mother, Kathy. Funeral arrangements were incomplete as of Thursday, although services will be held in Wallace, Texas, and a later memorial service will be held at Turfway Park.