You don’t have to remind the man with over 2,100 lifetime wins that span over a riding career which began in 1980, that he hasn’t yet won the oldest continually run stakes event in North America and Canada’s most prestigious horse race.
He already knows that.
But he also knows he could have a decent shot this year in the form of Prince Raphael, a bay son of Shakespeare, trained by Debbie England, and bred and co-owned by Oslen and Cristina Belle and Doug Reddington. “The first thing people usually ask me is, “Have you ever won the Plate?” One day, I’d like to be able to say yes,” said the 49- year-old. “I certainly want to. But if it doesn’t happen, I can say that I’ve enjoyed a good life as a jockey. I wouldn’t trade anything that I’ve accomplished.”
His career is a distinguished one, yielding wins in some of the most prestigious races in the country, victories that came against some of the sport’s top riders and top horses.
Pursuing a dream
It was when he saw legendary Canadian jockey Sandy Hawley win a stakes race at Woodbine on television that a 13-year-old Dos Ramos thought he might like to be a jockey. He had only been in Canada a few years, having come from Trinidad with his mother who was against her son riding fast horses for a living.
Dos Ramos went about it the right way, however, beginning as a hotwalker and groom before graduating to exercise rider. He credits trainers such as John Mack for kick starting his career as a jockey and others, such as Debbie England and her husband Phil, for sticking with him over the decades.
Twenty years ago, Dos Ramos engineered a triumph that was as impressive as it was improbable. In the 1992 Molson Export Million, he guided Steve Stavro’s Benburb to victory over Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, Plate winner Alydeed and top stakes horse Technology, at odds of 31-1, after taking over from an injured Larry Attard. Then, seven years later, he thrilled Canadian racing fans once again, this time with 18-1 Thornfield, also in Stavro’s silks, in the $1.5 million Canadian International.
Dos Ramos is also the recipient of two Sovereign Awards, winning Canada’s top apprentice honour in 1981 and 1982. In 2002, he received the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award in recognition for his contributions to the sport and then went on to win the Woodbine Oaks aboard Ginger Gold that very same day.
His accomplished biography includes a total of 146 stakes scores, including three Breeders’ Stakes, the final jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown series. He has ridden the winners of 2,129 races (through May 10, 2012) and collection of pursesof over $59.6 million.
Awaiting a Plate
A father of two girls, the man known affectionately as “Dos” has had 15 chances at winning the one race that has eluded him so far.
His first shot at Queen’s Plate glory came in 1983, his third full year in the saddle. It was in the final few days before the race that the enormity of contesting the 1 1/4-mile classic struck Dos Ramos, who was four months away from celebrating his 21st birthday.
“I was once that kid the fourth floor, feeling the grandstand shaking before the gates opened for the Plate and now, here I [was], days before, looking at the overnight, seeing my name and Sir Khaled’s name set to be in the Plate,’ remembered Dos Ramos. ‘Then, when you’re in post parade, you see what all the fuss is about,” he continued. “The stands are packed. There is an electricity in the air. So many things run through your mind. I remember I was excited. I knew I had a shot.”
When the field loaded into the gate for the 124th running, Dos Ramos and Sir Khaled, with post one, found themselves right beside his mentor and one of the best in the sport, Robin Platts, who was aboard 4-1 second choice Rockcliffe. After dueling with the favoured Bompago, who had won the Plate Trial at 25-1, throughout most of the race, Sir Khaled finished a game runner-up, 4 1/2 lengths back of the winner and 1 1/2 lengths in front of Rockcliffe.
“I liked Rick because he was a gentleman off the track and tough as nails on it,” said Platts, one of three riders (Sandy Hawley and the late Avelino Gomez are the others) to have won four Plates. “I always told the young kids, “Do your job well, be aggressive, have that fight to win and I’ll be proud of you.” And that’s what Rick has done. I didn’t like to ride against him, even in his early days and in that first Plate he rode in. I knew I would be in for a tussle out there every time. On that day, he did just that.”
Platts saw that competitive spirit on other occasions, too. “I can still remember the Molson Million when Rick won with Benburb,” recalled Platts, who was aboard 17-1 outsider Vying Victor. We put away the great A.P. Indy and I’m thinking to myself, “I’ve got this thing won.” And wouldn’t you know it, that son-of-a-bitch Dos Ramos splits horses and gets it. But that was Rick, he just never stopped riding. That’s what you want in a rider and that’s what you need in races like that one and in the Plate.”
Dos Ramos has never finished higher than he did in his first Plate appearance. There was a fourth-place effort, albeit some nine-plus lengths back of the winner, with Just in Case Jimmy in 2004, and a fifth with Steady Power in 1987.
If Dos Ramos doesn’t win the Plate, Platts insists it won’t detract from the impact the veteran has had on the sport. “It shouldn’t take away from anything,” offered the Hall of Famer. “He’s done everything. It would be great to see him win the Plate. I would love that. But if it doesn’t happen, he can look back and be proud.”
For now, Dos Ramos will look forward, sights set on another kick at the can. He’s been on 8-1 shots. He’s been on 80-1 shots. The Plate horses and circumstances have each been unique, but Dos Ramos’ rationale has never changed.
“I remember I had lunch with Robin one day years ago and we talked about [not winning the Plate],” recalled Dos Ramos. “I determined then that it just might not happen. And it hasn’t come to me. But I’m not going to complain. I’ve won some nice races and I’m doing what I love. If it happens to fall into place, then great. It would be something I’d always treasure.”
Perhaps Prince Raphael will be the one.
“He’s a pretty neat horse,” said Dos Ramos, who worked the horse throughout the winter months in Ocala, Florida. “He’s growing into himself at the right time. I told Debbie that if we’re heading to the Plate, we have to send him to Florida so that we can get him ready for it.”
And maybe, just maybe, Dos Ramos won’t have to answer the question that’s dogged him for almost as long as he’s been riding. “I finished second in my first Plate and haven’t been that close since then,” he said with a laugh. “Like I said, I’m still trying.”