Breaking slowly Jersey legend Wilson hasn't taken Laurel by storm

October 16, 1990|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

Quick. What jockey has the best winning percentage in the country?

Pat Day. OK, that wasn't so tough.

But you might be surprised to know if you had said Rick Wilson, you would have been close.

You also might be surprised to know that Wilson, almost a legend in New Jersey, is barely among the top 10 riders at Laurel. His 11 wins in 71 starts place him in seventh place, far behind leaders Edgar Prado and Mike Luzzi.

But until Wilson, 37, switched his tack to Maryland about a month ago, he compiled a 25.3 winning percentage through August to rank second behind Day of all the nation's riders.

Earlier this year, Wilson was the runaway leader in the jockeys' standings at Garden State and Monmouth Park. An aversion to night racing and three years of incurring severe injuries at the Meadowlands made him finally switch his tack to Maryland.

"I've got four kids, and it got so, if I wanted any family life at all -- if I wanted to see my kids while they were still growing up -- I couldn't spend the time I wanted with them and ride at night, too," Wilson said. "So, after thinking about it for a couple of years, we decided to make the move."

For an athlete so competitive that his agent says "he'd almost bite your head off" to win, it must be a humbling experience.

"Breaking in here has been a little bit more difficult that we'd anticipated," said Al Dellape, Wilson's longtime agent. "But Rick is still commuting back and forth from his home in Pennsylvania. And until he finds a place and moves his family here, it's hard trying to keep the peace between his wife, Jean, and their kids, who want him at home as much as possible, and the local horsemen, who want him available to work out horses in the mornings."

Wilson, a consummate family man, has one daughter, Kristy, who has hopes of becoming a jockey. "She's 9 and has a quarter horse that she rides, but I'm trying to discourage her as much as possible," he said. "It's far too dangerous."

Dellape said local trainers are still not completely sure Wilson is moving to Maryland for good. "They seem to have the feeling that as soon as Garden State opens back up, he'll be heading back there," Dellape said. "But, no, this is a serious move and we intend to stay. Rick is looking for a small farm to buy out in Howard or Carroll county right now."

Wilson has been a dominant force on the Garden State-Philadelphia Park circuit, winning nine riding titles at Philadelphia Park and four at Garden State. In 1988, he broke Jimmy Edwards' win record at Garden State, riding 133 winners from 402 mounts for a 31 percent win average. That year he also had the highest winning percentage in the nation.

"We were doing all right last year, too," Dellape said. "But then Rick cracked three vertebrae in his back in a spill at the Meadowlands and was laid up almost seven months."

Wilson said that was his most serious injury, although he has broken his shoulder, collarbone, a leg, both ankles, a foot, a wrist and some fingers during his 20-year riding career.

In his two previous years at the Meadowlands, he had a bleeding ulcer and a dislocated shoulder. "I've got some kind of jinx with that place," said Wilson, who is healthy now.

Wilson's numbers are deceptive since his move to Maryland, because Dellape says he has been choosy in selecting his jockey's mounts. "We're aiming for quality, not quantity," Wilson said. "For the time being, it's all right to ride three or four mounts, instead of 10, on a card."

Wilson won two stakes on the Maryland Million card (the Turf with Hear The Bells and the Starter Handicap with Arugula) and the Polynesian Handicap at Pimlico with Bill E. Shears.

But one of his best recent days came about three weeks ago at Belmont Park. Ben Perkins Sr., whose powerhouse stable is loaded with quality horses, shipped three runners to New York and all of them -- Lucky Delight, Tank and Six Speed -- won, with Wilson riding.

"Those are the kind of outfits we're aiming to ride for -- Ben Perkins, who is our main outfit, Jimmy Murphy, Barclay Tagg, Charlie Hadry, Billy Boniface, Dale Capuano," Dellape said. "It's just a matter of time before we start rolling."

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