It has been said that the best competitors don’t just play furiously, they are furious.
Then there is jockey Richard Eramia, who, as peers in the Midwest can attest, competes as hard as Pete Rose but also has mastered all the habits of an extremely happy person.
In addition to carrying a reputation as a versatile rider who wins, he always seems as joyful as Mister Rogers.
On Sunday, Eramia scratched off a bucket list item in a career that has spanned more than 20 years and almost $40 million in earnings, including 12,000 starts in 12 years in the United States.
The 38-year-old native of Uruguay, who now calls Grand Prairie home, clinched the jockey title at Lone Star Park on Sunday, the final day of the 2017 thoroughbred season, with 65 victories in 300 starts during the 50-day campaign.
It was in my mind all meet. It’s what I wanted to do. This is home for me.
Richard Eramia, top jockey at Lone Star Park
As tradition requires of the season’s top jockey, Eramia bought dinner afterward for his fellow riders.
And as is customary for Eramia, he was more than happy to do it.
“It was in my mind all meet. It’s what I wanted to do. This is home for me,” said Eramia, who remembers his first professional race — July 15, 1995, in Uruguay as a 15-year-old, a win — as if it were two weeks ago.
“I’m happy about this. I love horses. I want to win, but a little tired too. It’s hard to keep going and win races. It’s a long summer.”
Steve Asmussen won his 12th trainers championship and wrapped up his second season as top owner.
Lone Star Park, in need of a good 20th season, also appeared to be a winner. Though attendance was down almost seven percent over 2016, on-track live handle was slightly up, to $11.3 million. Off-track betting was up more than 15.5 percent, to $35.2 million. The total on-track and off-track figure of $46.5 million was 11.7 percent better than 2016.
Total simulcast figures were not available, though the track had averaged $550,859 per day through Saturday.
It was atop Asmussen’s steeds that Eramia largely made his move up the standings last month.
Eramia, who in one June week notched 17 wins in 42 races between Lone Star and Louisiana Downs, picked up 25 victories in July at Lone Star, including seven during a three-day stretch in the middle of the month.
That run enabled him to surge past then-leader Iram Vargas Diego.
Eramia on Sunday placed twice with a show in eight starts. For the season, he finished in the money on 57 percent of his mounts and won purses of slightly more than $1 million.
“He’s a veteran. He knows his way around the race track for sure,” said jockey Lindey Wade. “He’s always got a good attitude. Win, lose, draw, he’s always in a good mood. That makes him a good guy to be around.”
Maintaining that kind of temperament takes effort for travel-weary jockeys, who are on the road often throughout the year. Eramia has been racing concurrently at Louisiana Downs, where he is seeking his sixth top jockey trophy. He leads heading into racing this week.
Positivity likely saved Eramia’s career. Doctors said his days as a jockey were over after a serious automobile accident in 2002 that resulted in broken ribs, a fractured leg and a broken jaw.
Little did they know what happiness can bring, along with life in the land of opportunity.
“I grew up in a little town, San Jose [Uruguay], two miles from the race track. A friend of mine took me there to watch. I started working there as a groomer at nine years old.
“It’s the only thing I wanted to do ... is be a jockey. All my life I had nothing else on my mind. Only that.”