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Former jockey: In life, bet on God

October 15, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Pat Day has enjoyed the glorious ride of success because he was able to pull back the reins of failure.

Day spent 22 years as one of thoroughbred horse racing's greatest jockeys. He won national racing titles, Kentucky Derbys and Breeders' Cup titles. But every one of his good days came after times that tested him.

He admits he began winning the ultimate race when he made God the top priority of his life.

"I used to say I was given a God-given talent," said Day on Saturday as the featured speaker at the annual West Virginia Breeders Classics Breakfast of Champions in a banquet room at Charles Town Races & Slots.

"Now, I look at my life, it wasn't me. It was that God had given me the talent."

Day, a Hall of Famer who is fourth all-time in racing victories, headed a star-studded table featuring former Washington Redskins greats and racing personalities.

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While many came to hear the old football war stories of the likes of Sam Huff, Sonny Jurgensen, Pat Fischer, Bobby Mitchell, Roy Jefferson and Brigg Owens and see national race announcer Dave Johnson and television racing commentator Chris Lincoln, who acted as the program's emcee, Day was the man with the message.

"Thought if I'd win the national riding title, it would lead to contentment. I thought I knew how to celebrate," Day said. "Being the leading rider was a fantastic accomplishment, but it didn't lead to peace, joy and contentment."

For all his success, Day admits he didn't become a real winner until 1984, when he accepted God into his life. He said he had his "personal altar call" one night in a hotel room.

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His realization allowed him to give up his needs for drugs and alcohol, and gave him a new purpose in life.

"I became a different person," Day said. "The grass was greener. The air was cleaner. The world hadn't changed. I had just become a new creature.

"When I left the bondage of drug and alcohol, my career went straight up," he said earlier.

"Before, I thought the racing world revolved around Pat Day. I look back now and I shudder. I don't like that person."

Day had considered leaving racing to join the ministry after that day. But he remembered his statement about his "God-given talent."

He eventually met with Mike Spencer, the chaplain at Hot Springs, Ark., and through discussions and prayer, he decided that he was to stay in racing.

Throughout his career - which netted $27,912,019 in purses, the most ever - and now in his retirement, Day became the major face for Race Track Chaplaincy of America, the chaplains behind the scenes at racetracks. He has tried to work with people in the industry to enhance the benefits for the chaplains.

"Pat Day has done well because people trust him," said Rick Mann, head of the Charles Town Chaplaincy Services.

"This man is very composed, but he is still able to speak his mind. He is concerned about the industry of racing in the new era of life.

"Pat sees the big picture. He feels that God got him to a place to help out. When he came on, he gave the chaplaincy a shot in the arm."

Day admits he faced his share of failures before getting to this point in his life.

First, there was an inferiority complex because of his size, followed by an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a bull rider in the rodeo. The near-instant success once he became a jockey brought on an arrogance and belief in invincibility, leading to addictions.

But Day has survived first with the help of his unsuccessful rodeo days.

"The one thing that the rodeo taught me was how to fall," Day said. "I learned the ability to relax, tuck and roll in the arena, and it helped me in my career."

The ability to fall and his belief in God have put Pat Day on his main track in the race of life.

"Life is a terminal disease. You don't know when you are going to die, you just will," Day said.

"I recognize that He is the giver of all my ability and what I have sustained in life. He allowed me to express my talent. It is all part and parcel. My goal is to hear God say, 'Well done.'"

Day

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