Dominguez, who spent close to a decade in Maryland and still has a home near the Fair Hill training center, said he got "great exposure" riding at Pimlico and Laurel and that going to New York was just part of the natural progression. Dominguez admits moving to New York put him in the conversation to get "Derby horses" such as Bluegrass Cat, who finished second to Barbaro.
"A lot of times, it has nothing to do with ability," said Dominguez, 35, who's currently second nationally in race earnings and is shooting for his third straight year of leading the country's jockeys. "It's more of a business thing — you need to build relationships and have people trust you. At the end of the day, it's just horse racing."
A new generation of Maryland jockeys are now contemplating making the jump.
They see the huge disparity in the number of mounts those in New York and California get, and the money their horses — and subsequently they — earn. Last year, Sheldon Russell was Maryland's best jockey, but his $4.2 million in earnings was 53 spots behind Dominguez, who led the country with more than $20 million. It didn't hurt that Dominguez had 1,408 starts, compared to only 901 for Russell.
Rosie Napravnik, who first rode at Pimlico as a 17-year-old apprentice in 2005, became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks earlier this month. She is currently the leading jockey at The Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The Louisiana-born, London-raised Russell, now 24, followed British trainer Michael Dickinson to Fair Hill five years ago and just got his first Kentucky Derby mount.
Though Maryland-based Done Talking finished 14th out of 20 horses at Churchill Downs, Russell said the atmosphere of the Derby "made me think" about leaving Maryland someday. It might be a more difficult decision for Russell, 23, if Maryland had summer racing on Laurel Park's turf track. He thinks it would make a difference for trainers who take their horses to Saratoga.
If the influx of slots revives Maryland's faltering horse racing industry, Pino can see a day when Maryland returns to its racing roots, including what he called "a deep colony" of jockeys similar to what it had when he was coming up. Dominguez can see a time when the best jockeys in Maryland might stay put.
"Maryland can be a great state for horse racing, for everyone," Dominguez said. "But right now horse racing all over the country is kind of survival of the fittest."