Like any other young, aspiring rider, Kendrick Carmouche dreamed for years about joining some of the world's best jockeys on the New York Racing Association circuit.
While it may have taken him longer than expected to arrive in the Big Apple, Carmouche has found a home competing on one of the sport's biggest stages.
In just two short years in New York, the 33-year-old Carmouche has emerged as one of NYRA's most consistent and well-rounded riders. Winning on 22% of his mounts, he finished third with 53 wins during Aqueduct Racetrack's winter meet.
"New York is where I wanted to ride my entire life," he said. "It took me a long time to get here, but that just goes to show you that hard work pays off."
For Carmouche most of that hard work came during 14 formative years at Parx Racing, where he reigned as one of the Pennsylvania track's top riders and registered the bulk of his 2,914 career victories through March 29.
After starting his career riding at Delta Downs in 2000, he moved to the East and went on to win seven riding titles at Parx while based there from 2001 through 2015, including four in a row from 2008-11. In 2010, he won a career-high 285 races to finish seventh in the nation.
The Louisiana native became such a dominant figure at Parx that he was inducted into the track's Hall of Fame in 2015.
Yet for all of his success at Parx, Carmouche also yearned for the greater challenges and rewards of riding in New York.
"I wanted to stay at Parx to craft my skills before moving to New York, because I knew I would be moving into a very elite jockeys room. Some of the best riders in the country are there," Carmouche said. "I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to compete in New York, but I also wanted to make sure I was ready for it and could give it my best effort. It's about growing up in life. That's what makes you successful."
Early in the winter of 2015, at the age of 31, Carmouche made the jump to New York and has never looked back.
"I didn't do as good as I wanted the first winter in New York," the veteran jockey said, "but I don't give up on anything, especially something I've wanted my whole life. I fought through it."
Through his perseverance, Carmouche won 110 races at NYRA tracks in his first full year and placed eighth in the circuit's year-end standings. He finished 2015 with 148 wins overall, a far cry from when he averaged 227 wins a year from 2007-12. Yet his earnings surged to a career-high $8,117,947 as he won three of NYRA's graded stakes.
Last year, he continued his ascent. He moved up to fifth on the NYRA chart with 134 victories and finished just behind Javier Castellano and two wins ahead of Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
He closed out 2016 with an overall total of 145 wins and five graded stakes victories, topped by a score aboard Haveyougoneaway in the Honorable Miss Handicap (G2) at Saratoga Race Course, and set a new personal-best with earnings of $9,544,834.
"Kendrick is a guy you can compare to a baseball player who spent a lot of years in the minors and worked his way up through the farm system and gets better with age. That's how Kendrick is. He's like a five-tool outfielder," said trainer Jeremiah Englehart. "He also has the right mindset for his profession. He doesn't believe he has learned everything. He isn't afraid to think he can get better. He's very smart, has the kind of personality you need, and he can adjust to anything, which makes him so good."
That Carmouche has not been weighed down by all of the stress and pressure rolled into riding in New York is probably the part of his success story that came as no surprise to those who know him best. He can handle victory and defeat with equal aplomb and has the kind of engaging personality that works well with horsemen.
"I can relate to anyone. I'm just a happy-go-lucky person. I want everyone around me to be successful, and they want that for me, which helps a lot," Carmouche said. "I'm just thankful to all the owners and trainers who have supported me from day one—when I arrived at Aqueduct—the fans and everybody else. There's been a lot of support for me and my family. It's unbelievable how big of a change I made and how things clicked right away. I've found the place where I want to end my career and make a name for myself."