LAUREL -- Joe Rocco moved into select company yesterday at Laurel Race Course when he rode his 2,000th career winner.
Rocco, who won aboard Ensor in the seventh race, has been riding at East Coast tracks since 1979.
"My dad took me out of school in Brooklyn [N.Y.] when I was 16," HTC said Rocco, 31. "He said I was going to be a jockey."
"I didn't know anything about horses. I was terrified. But I got to galloping horses and started to like it."
The 2,000-victory mark is not associated with greatness; reaching it often is more attributable to a combination of longevity, dedication and ability. Although complete North American statistics are unavailable, it is believed that fewer than 90 jockeys have won 2,500 races. The number who have won 2,000 probably is in the 200 range.
For Rocco, the milestone is significant in one respect: He never has been the leading rider at a meeting.
"I know being leading rider doesn't mean a whole lot," he said, "but it would mean a lot to me if I could just do it once." He is tied for second, behind Mike Luzzi, in the Laurel standings.
"I've always ridden against good riders," Rocco said. "At the Meadowlands, Monmouth Park . . . it was always tough. When I used to go to Florida in the winter, the good riders were there, too. But I have always been in the top 10."
Rocco came to Maryland two years ago and has been a fixture in the top five since. He joins six others in the Maryland colony who have won at least 2,000: Marco Castaneda, Gregg McCarron, Donnie Miller, Mario Pino, Rick Wilson and Danny Wright.
* The fifth race produced a result that leads horseplayers to say: "I couldn't have bet on that winner -- even after the race."
Easter Flight, a 54-1 shot, won the maiden $16,000 race. The 3-year-old colt had been beaten a total of 79 lengths in three career starts.
Trainer William Sams said the addition of blinkers helped the colt considerably.
"He can run faster than anything we have on the farm in Virginia," Sams said. "We just couldn't get it out of him. We went to Charles Town to work him and get his blinker card [permission to add blinkers]."
Easter Flight paid $110.60 to win.
NOTES: Rocco also rode the winner of the 10th race, Swindler Mike. . . . Eleven fillies and mares were entered for tomorrow's Gala Lil Handicap at Laurel. Tia Juanita is the top weight at 118 pounds.