Jockey Casey Chavez Retires
Photo: John C. Engelhardt
Casey Chavez and mother Penny Gardiner at Keeneland.

A neck injury suffered earlier this season has prompted jockey Casey Chavez to retire from racing.

In recent seasons, Chavez, 37, primarily competed at River Downs and Turfway Park.

A veteran of 18 racing seasons, Casey Chavez is the son of Felix Chavez and Penny Gardiner, who both competed as jockeys. Penny currently works as an exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and Felix is the clerk of scales at River Downs.

As a young rider, Chavez competed at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Belmont Park, Aqueduct, and SunRay Park. He eventually returned home to the Cincinnati area where he rode primarily in Northern Kentucky and Ohio.

A highlight for Chavez took place in the mornings at Keeneland in the autumn of 2010 when he was entrusted to ready Blame   for his epic race with Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

"Glen Brookfield was trainer Al Stall’s assistant and he liked my style and he trusted me," Chavez said. "The first time he put me up he said to work him five furlongs in a minute flat and we nailed it. He was monstrous and I knew I was sitting on something special. As we approached the Breeders' Cup there were more and more cameras clicking and press surrounding the barn, but he was a real pro."

Rather than make the short drive to Churchill Downs for Blame's greatest race Chavez elected to watch by himself from his home.

"My neighbors must have thought I was nuts," Chavez said. "When he hit the wire a head in front I was beside myself, hooting and hollering like a little kid."

Chavez' days with Blame weren't the only ones in the spotlight. He landed a role in the movie "Secretariat" with fellow River Downs jockey Otto Thorworth, who played Ron Turcotte.

"I got to ride 'Secretariat' in one of the racing scenes while Otto went on a lunch break. Guess you could say I've been on two champions," Chavez laughed.

On the track Chavez guided stakes winner Nate’s Rib. Chavez suffered his injuries June 29 at River Downs while exercising a horse.

"A horse came from out of nowhere and spooked my mount," Chavez said. "As I tried to get my balance back he spun in the other direction and I came off, but my foot got stuck in the reins and he headed toward the barns striking me with his front and back legs. Thank God my boot somehow slipped off my foot."

Chavez suffered four protruding discs near his neck and he decided to hang up his saddle.

Chavez is a skilled artist and had several of his works on display at the Churchill Downs Museum several years ago. He plans on attending art school as he heads into his second career.

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