Rocco's wins start to heal wounds of layoff

April 11, 1994|By Kent Baker

Friday, Joe Rocco finished first with Punch A Dragon in a $4,000 claiming race at Pimlico.

Normally, this would cause little excitement, but for the 14-year jockey, "it was like winning a Breeders' Cup race. I never felt so good about anything."

It had been a long time between trips to the winner's circle for Rocco, whose lifeblood had been threatened for nearly six months.

"Five months and 28 days exactly," said Rocco, the victim of several spills last fall that forced him to quit riding and put his career in jeopardy because of a liver problem. He returned to action on March 26.

"At first I wasn't worried about it because I thought I'd be OK. I wasn't quite sure what was wrong. But when the doctor then told me I should look for another occupation, I got really scared."

Yesterday, Rocco sweetened the comeback with a front-running win on Whiz Pass in the second division of the $30,000 Harriman Stakes.

Rocco always has been an aggressive rider, and he said he is not going to turn cautious now.

"I don't think my riding style has changed a whole lot since I came back," he said. "I'm a sore loser and I want to win more now than ever."

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