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Ho restarts career at Charles Town

AT THE RACES -

August 24, 2008|By LARRY YANOS

Jockey Gene Ho is back in the saddle.

The 55-year-old Ho, one of the leading race-riders at Charles Town Races & Slots from 1977 to 1992, says he wants a chance to prove he can again be successful at the West Virginia thoroughbred oval.

"There are many new trainers since I rode here and I'm having some difficulty finding mounts," Ho said. "I'm trying to reacquaint myself with some of the former trainers. I just want a chance to prove myself. I feel I can fit in here, but you also have to ride some quality. You can't beat a Mercedes with a Volkswagen."

Ho said he appreciates the fact that trainers like Tim Collins, John Henry Dillow, Gale McGee and Alfred (Pee Wee) Scott have provided him with riding assignments since his return in July, but he also would like to ride horses for other trainers.

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The Hong Kong native was forced into retirement in 1995 when he was riding at the Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa.

"I suffered a serious leg injury and had to quit," Ho said. "A horse reared up at the gate, then dropped me and ran over me."

The cuts required 128 stitches, but the veteran jockey wants to put that day behind him as he continues his comeback campaign.

Ho and his wife, Linda, have a 10 1/2-acre farm near Asheville, N.C., and the rider commutes back and forth. He has been staying in shape by galloping horses at the Middleburg, Va., Training Center.

Needless to say, Ho has proved to be an excellent race-rider.

He won six of seven races on the same day -- April 6, 1979 -- at the Pimlico Race Course and Charles Town.

"I won four races that day for Harold McCormack, one at Pimlico and three more at Charles Town," Ho said. "I also won for trainers Robert Ashby Jr., and William S. Berry. The only race I didn't win, I finished fourth."

Ho also won meet titles at Charles Town nine different times.

Why the comeback?

"I was at the track one evening and just said to myself, 'Hey, I can do this. I want to ride horses again,'" Ho said. "I'm healthy, I'm fit, I can compete with these jockeys."

The veteran rider had no interest in the sport at an early age and said the fact his father owned a restaurant in New York City prompted his introduction into horse racing.

"Some trainers, some prominent trainers, would come to the restaurant," Ho said. "They would say to my dad, 'That kid should be a jockey.' One thing led to another and I got on some horses. I knew nothing about the sport.

"I got a contract with Claiborne Farm in 1970 and started race-riding in 1973. I rode in New York and California. Burton Sipp then bought my contract and I returned to the East Coast. I rode in Florida and a few others places before finally settling down in Charles Town for good."

In 1977, Ho won 157 races from March through November.

Ho has many fond memories of his early days in New York and California, but one stands out.

"I've been on some nice horses, but none better than Sham," Ho said. "He was owned by Claiborne Farm and I took a liking to him when he was a 2-year-old. We got along real well. I actually galloped Sham when he was in New York."

Sham was a super horse. He won the 1973 Santa Anita Derby and gave the great Secretariat a run for his money.

He defeated "Big Red" in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in April of 1973 and finished second behind the great thoroughbred in both the 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Trained by Frank "Pancho" Martin, Sham sported a career record of 5-5-1 from 13 career starts with earnings of $204,808.

Larry Yanos covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at larryy@herald-mail.com

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