Ten months after riding in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), jockey Steve "Cowboy" Hamilton announced his retirement. The 32-year-old has not ridden since Maryland Million Day on Oct. 15. After contemplating a comeback, he decided to end his racing career for the second time."Towards the end of last year I started getting heavy, something every rider goes through," said Hamilton, who rode 1,199 winners for $22.7 million. "It was a struggle to keep my weight down and it just got too tough. I thought the best thing to do was to take the winter off and go from there. "I was about 140 pounds when I started the process of getting it back down. It seemed to be coming off pretty easy and I got down to 122. I needed to lose another nine pounds but stayed there for two or three weeks and just couldn't get any lighter. I have my wife and kids to think about and the best decision was to call it quits. I'd love to be out there but once I realized this was going to be too tough I am okay with the decision."Among the top five riders at five different Maryland meetings during the 1990s, Hamilton was out of racing in 2001, 2002 and 2003 while working at the oil fields in his native Oklahoma. He returned in January 2004, winning the Pimlico spring riding title that year. Less than 18 months later he was aboard Malibu Moonshine in the middle jewel of the famed Triple Crown last May."A lot of people don't get a second chance and I was very fortunate to be able to ride a lot of nice horses in a short period time including Malibu Moonshine," said Hamilton. "They were the two most rewarding years I had as a race rider. Malibu Moonshine came into the race with an outside chance and he didn't run that poorly, finishing eighth. The whole Preakness experience was unbelievable. To get into the gate and hear the roar of the crowd was something I'll never forget." Hamilton will continue to gallop horses at Laurel Park in the morning for trainer Jimmy Murphy and will work in the jockey room at the Maryland tracks.
Hamilton rode Mz. Zill Bear to three stakes victories in 1995, including the Maryland Million Ladies, and was the regular rider for turf star John's Call and Thomas Jo, who won the Tesio Stakes and Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico in 1998. He earned his 1,000th career victory during the 2004 Colonial Downs stand.