HOT SPRINGS Ricky Frazier has come home but the neighborhood has changed.
He's riding at Oaklawn Park for the first time since 1988, changing silks in the same jockeys' room that he once rubbed shoulders with Pat Day, Larry Snyder, David Whited and John Lively. Of that group, only Snyder is still around, as a track steward, while Day (a racing Hall of Famer), Whited and Lively ended distinguished riding careers years ago.
At age 43, with more than 3,000 victories and coming off an especially profitable season, Frazier is hustling for mounts against past Oaklawn champions Luis Quinonez, Calvin Borel and Tim Doocy and early-season sensations Eddie Razo Jr. and apprentice Dylan Williams.
So far, it's been slow going for the son of former trainer Roy Frazier. But he can take consolation that even Day struggled for mounts in his first season before reeling off 12 straight Oaklawn championships.
"You have to re-establish yourself anywhere you go," Frazier said one recent morning in the track kitchen. "It's such a short season that you need to get off to a good start, which makes things a lot easier.
"You just have to keep working hard. People know me and know my reputation, but it's a different clientele. If you don't have some stables lined up, it's hard to get established."
Frazier's only victory at the meeting came Jan. 21 aboard Stone Bird, a 3-year-old Grindstone colt trained by Hall of Famer Wayne Lukas that, paying $38.80, took a holiday racing crowd by surprise. Frazier enjoyed considerable success with Lukas decades ago at Oaklawn, their association beginning after Frazier booted home a Lukas trainee that dumped his scheduled rider in the post parade.
Frazier's other local clients include trainers Mike Gorham and Grant Forster, the latter familiar with Frazier from their time together at Washington's Emerald Downs, where the jockey has achieved Day-like dominance. Frazier claimed his third Emerald Downs championship in four years in 2007, setting seasonal records with 157 victories and earnings of $1,632,102. On Sept. 27, Frazier became the first jockey to go 5-for-5 on a single card at the track.
Frazier also won the Emerald title in 2004 and 06, revitalizing his career in the Pacific Northwest after winning championships at the Texas-based Retama Park and Sam Houston Race Park. He missed out on repeating in 2005 after breaking his neck in five places in a January spill at Fair Grounds (New Orleans) one of those occupational hazards jockeys seem to take in stride.
"I've got a good agent up there and was real lucky to get on some horses that could run," Frazier said. "I've not been riding for any one stable but have been able to enjoy some peak years."
Frazier's career topped out last fall with his first Breeders' Cup mount and his 3,000th victory, three weeks apart. Previously undefeated Smarty Deb placed fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies over a muddy Monmouth Park surface, although not disgracing herself, Frazier said, on a day that "half the field was 25 lengths back in most of the races. The fact she finished fifth, and didn't give up, says a lot about her talent and her heart."
Frazier claimed a nice consolation prize the previous day, winning the $250,000 Favorite Trick Breeders' Cup Stakes aboard Margo's Gift, a 2-yearold gelding that accompanied Smarty Deb to Monmouth (both are trained by Doris Hagwood). A three-time stakes winner in Washington, Margo's Gift paid $55.40 in his first start outside Emerald Downs.
"He was an overachiever from the very beginning," Frazier said. "Every time he runs, it's like, Wow. Wow. He just keeps getting better and better."
Before taking a winter vacation, Frazier journeyed to Arizona for his 3,000th victory, Nov. 17 on Miller's Turbo in a stakes race at Turf Paradise, his only regret that it came through disqualification.
Also last fall, veteran agent Tom Stift called Frazier and asked if he would like to winter at Oaklawn.
For more information see Monday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.