Thoroughbred season ends Sunday at Remington Park and for one long-time Oklahoma jockey that ending marks a new beginning down a different track.
“This is my second home, Remington Park is,” jockey Cliff Berry said.
In the jockey locker room on Sunday, he dressed for race day. From putting on his colorful silks to slipping on his boots - he could do this routine in his sleep. Walking down to the paddock for the last time, Sunday’s races will cap his career on the track.
“This place has been great to me from ‘88 and all the way up to here,” he said.
Cliff won his first race at Remington Park 27 years ago during the track’s inaugural races in 1988.
“It was a big day, a lot of people here,” he remembers. “There's nothing like winning a race, the thrill of victory I guess.”
It’s a thrill that has sustained him. To date, he’s won more races at Remington Park than any other jockey, with 2,125 career wins in Oklahoma City and 4,457 overall. Three of those races include the Oklahoma Derby, the richest thoroughbred race at Remington Park.
“That's the race you want to win when you come to Remington Park for the fall meet, that's the one,” he said.
Now, though, he says it's time to hang up his saddle.
“I'm 53, and my legs aren't as good as they used to be, I want to leave while I’m still doing pretty good, I don't want to wait until I’m washed up,” Berry said.
Berry said being a jockey can be grueling.
“It's very taxing on your legs, I mean you got to be really fit, nobody can come off the street and ride a race,” he said.
All the pain and hectic schedules were worth it to Berry. Looking back on his many trips down the stretch, he fondly remembers the horses he’s ridden.
“You learn their likes and don't likes and they're kind of like pets, you get to know them, some of them have got a lot of character, some of them are quiet,” he said. “I've had a lot of favorites through the years, you know, a lot of them that stand out.”
So he makes his way from the paddock to the track one last time Sunday, crediting the owners, trainers and fans for their support as he leaves the starting gate for good.
“I know I will miss it,” he said. “Monday I’ll be lost, Sunday I’m just going to enjoy myself.”
Berry rode in five races during Sunday’s Springboard Mile. He placed fifth, third, eighth, seventh and seventh.