Rajiv Maragh making his mark at the track
If one were to name the top Jamaican athletes currently competing internationally, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Elaine Thompson, and Chris Gayle, are some of the names that would readily come to mind.
Well, add to the list, Rajiv Maragh, the diminutive 114 lb 31-year-old dynamo from out of Kingston, who, since 2005, has been making a huge splash on the North American circuit, firmly establishing himself as one of the top horse-racing jockeys in the United States and also the world.
A winner of more than 1,700 races since he first got his jockey's license in 2003, Maragh, the son of former top-flight jockey-turned-trainer, Colin Maragh, has also amassed nearly US$90 million in purse earnings, averaging a personal income of US$1 million per year.
Currently plying his trade at the Aqueduct Race Track, New York, it is almost easy to forget that it was only two years ago when a spill at the famed Belmont Park (New York) almost cost him his life.
"I am very lucky to be alive today," Maragh said, shaking his head as he reminisced on the near-miss on July 10, 2015, as he sat down for an interview at the Iberostar in Rose Hall, St James, on a rare visit to the island last week.
"I suffered several broken vertebrae, a punctured lung, and broken ribs from the fall. There were eight fractures of the spine. It took three days before I could make my first steps while I had to stay in the house for three months, only leaving twice for a hospital visit."
Maragh further explained that he had to wear an upper body brace for nine months and where he was restricted from "bending, twisting, and lifting."
"It was an ordeal that took me away from the racetrack for 16 months and where many persons had concluded that I would never ride again," he pointed out. "It was real tough ... the rehabilitation and all the hard work and pain that came along with it. It became very frustrating at times, being sidelined and unable to do even the most basic of things. I have to say a special thank you to my wife, Angelina, for being there every step of the way and for helping me to keep my sanity intact. I always knew deep down that I was never going to go out like that and that a comeback was always on the cards."
And come back he did! On November 4, last year, he made that long-awaited comeback at Aqueduct to the delight of racing fans and also his fellow jockeys, a number of who gave him a lot of moral support during his rehabilitation process.
It also didn't take long for Maragh to get back among the winners, even claiming the leader board for a brief moment last month. He is currently sitting in fourth position and not too far off the pace being set by one of the top jockeys in the world, Puerto Rican Irad Ortiz Jr.
"It is also fair to say that horseracing is in my blood as both my father and uncle (Allen 'Bongo John' Maragh) were popular riders at Caymanas Park here in Jamaica. My mother was also an owner of horses."
A former student of Meadowbrook High School, St Andrew, Maragh, who has ridden in faraway places such as Dubai and Japan, has the distinction of being the only Caribbean rider to have placed twice in the world's most prestigious horse race - the Kentucky Derby - third in 2010 with Mucho Macho Man and fourth in 2014 with Wicked Strong.
He has also won four Breeders Cup races, again the most ever for a Caribbean jockey, and a number of rich stake races, including the Arkansas Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Jim Dandy.