Wilson has inside track to Derby Local jockey to ride Storm Tower in Fla.

March 17, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Jean Wilson is afraid to fly. But even fear can't keep her away from Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Her husband, Rick, is 39, has ridden in more than 16,000 races, and his job, she says, has gotten to be old hat.

But this weekend is different. The career of the veteran jockey could take on a new dimension.

He will ride Storm Tower, an undefeated colt, in the Florida Derby. It is the first Grade I stakes of the season for 3-year-olds, and the horse -- Wilson has been commuting to Florida from Laurel Race Course to ride him this winter -- is the favorite.

A victory would mean that a Maryland-based jockey might be riding the horse to beat in six weeks in the Kentucky Derby.

"It's something we try not to talk about," Jean Wilson said. "We're afraid we'll jinx it."

Storm Tower trainer Ben Perkins Jr. said that an ABC sportscaster, taping a pre-race interview for the Florida Derby, asked: "Why aren't you using a name rider -- like [Chris] McCarron or [Eddie] Delahoussaye or [Kent] Desormeaux -- on the horse?"

"I told him that it is no temptation at all," Perkins said. "We have as much confidence in Rick as anyone. The local guys don't get all the publicity as the big-name jockeys. But our feeling is that the choice of a rider is not a major, major decision anyway. The top jockeys are pretty interchangeable. And I guess you could say that about the trainers, too.

"Rick is a real professional. He's real solid. In addition to that, he is the first choice of Charlie Hesse," Perkins said. Hesse, a New Jersey road contractor, owns the horse in partnership with Anthony Tornetta.

Wilson came to Maryland to ride full time about two years ago.

Before that, he dominated the New Jersey-Philadelphia Park circuit the same way Edgar Prado or, before that, Desormeaux reigned in Maryland.

But he disliked riding at night at The Meadowlands and incurred a number of medical setbacks there -- from a bleeding ulcer to a dislocated shoulder to a broken back.

"I had some kind of jinx with that place," Wilson said.

Wilson and his agent, Al Dellape, are choosy about whom they ride for in Maryland, and the results are a high winning percentage. Wilson also has had no serious injuries.

The same time Wilson moved here, so did the father-son team of Ben Perkins Jr. and Sr.

"When we first came, we had a rider named Chris De Carlo," the younger Perkins said. "But eventually we ended up with Rick. When we were in New Jersey, we never used just one jockey. We spread things out pretty good. Rick rode first call then for Dennis Heimer. But now we're real comfortable riding just Rick. He's an excellent rider of young horses, and that's mostly what we have."

Wilson, too, seems content with the arrangement. His goal is to win the Kentucky Derby or a Breeders' Cup race.

With the Perkinses, he has a shot to come up with a good horse.

"Last spring, I was getting on eight or 10 2-year-olds every morning for them, and all of them could run," Wilson said.

Among them were Storm Tower, Wild Zone and Woods of Windsor, all of whom became stakes winners.

What makes Storm Tower so exceptional, Wilson said, is not only his speed, but his ability to relax.

"He's only run four races, but he acts like a 4- or 5-year-old," Wilson said. "In the Fountain of Youth, there was a lot of speed in the race, and I knew I'd have something [Great Navigator] to rate off of. He relaxed real good." Storm Tower drew off in the stretch to win.

"In this race [the Florida Derby], he'll relax even more," Wilson said.

Jean Wilson said it took some adjustment, but that she, Rick and their four children are happy living in Howard County. Their oldest daughter, Jennifer, 16, attends Glenelg High School. Kristy, 11, goes to Glenwood Middle School and their two sons, Ricky, 9, and Kenny, 5, attend West Friendship Elementary.

They bought a house and nearly five acres near Sykesville. Rick Wilson spent last summer fencing two large paddocks and built a three-stall barn.

Between taking Kristy and her show pony, Scarlet, to horse shows and the other children to sports and school activities, Jean Wilson said she rarely gets to the races.

The family did pack a Winnebago, though, and go to the Kentucky Derby in 1984. That's the one year Wilson rode in the race, finishing 14th on Raja's Shark.

"He was basically a sprinter and couldn't get the trip," Rick Wilson said.

But Jean Wilson said she's leaving with Rick on Friday for Florida.

"It's not the money [the race carries a $500,000 purse]. It's the prestige," she said. "I know what Rick goes through. All the hard work. The seven-day-a-week job with no paid vacations. The injuries. The dieting [to maintain his wait, Wilson eats only one meal a day]. We're all proud of his career. We know he deserves to win one of these big races. He's paid his dues."

Wilson at a glance

Born: Aug. 12, 1953

Birthplace: Hartshorn, Okla.

Residence: Sykesville

Size: 5 feet 3, 112 pounds

Family: Wife Jean; daughters Jennifer (16) and Kristy (11); sons Ricky (9) and Kenny(5)

Maiden victory: May 12, 1973, at La Mesa (N.M.) Park

Lifetime record (through March 9): 16,855 mounts; 3,341 wins; 2,819 seconds; 2,322 thirds. Mounts have earned $37,117,314.

Career highlights: Leading jockey nine times at Philadelphia Park; leading jockey four times at Garden State Park; leading jockey at Monmouth Park in 1990; won 3,000th race at Laurel Race Course on July 9, 1991.

Important stakes wins: Won more than 20 stakes on the Maryland circuit in 1991-92, three Maryland Million races, Delaware Handicap, Laurel Futurity, Sorority Stakes, Fountain of Youth Stakes, Garden State Stakes, Hialeah Turf Cup.

Kentucky Derby experience: Finished 14th aboard Raja's Shark in 1984.

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