Orville Clarke, Gleaner Writer
TOP-LINE JOCKEY Dane Nelson has paid his dues and the success he enjoys today is not by accident.
A product of the Jockeys' School, Nelson started riding as an apprentice at Caymanas Park in November 2002 and did not have to wait long for his first winner, GUARDIAN ANGEL in the Colin Melhado Cup feature over 1200 metres on January 18, 2003. Then 18, Nelson has not looked back. Along the way the going has not always been smooth. But the jockey has learned from his mistakes and is now reaping the fruits of hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
Nelson has ridden 85 winners so far this season to hold down second in the jockeys' standings, which is led by reigning champion Omar Walker on 114.
Among his winners was the 90-1 outsider, MEDSTAR for trainer Steadman Curtis in a three-year-old maiden condition race over the straight course on August 27, the bay colt winning by a nose from the Shane Ellis-ridden favourite, BORN TO DANCE.
While Nelson faces an uphill task to wrestle the championship from Walker under normal circumstances, the 24-year-old jockey says he is happy with all aspects of his riding this season.
"I am very fit and focussed right now, which is due to hard work ... I've been doing a lot of running to keep my weight down to 50.5kg and can ride as many horses as possible on a race day, because of my physical condition," Nelson said.
"With three months of the season remaining, I'll just take things one day at a time and see how it goes. "Right now, I'm eyeing 100 winners and whatever comes after that will be a bonus for me," he said after booting home his second four-timer of the season on Wednesday, September 24, this comprising WHEEL N DEAL (4-5), HEAD OF STATE (8-1), ISLA (7-2) and 8-5 favourite MACHISMO in the over-night allowance sprint.
Thanks to the aggressive nature of his riding, combined with an uncanny ability to win in tight finishes, Nelson has improved to such an extent in the past year that he has firmly established himself as one of the most talented and sought-after riders at Caymanas Park.
Time and again in recent months he has come out on the top end of photo finishes. He gave hot jockey Walker the bulbshot of his life on September 24 when producing ISLA with a tremendous rail run in the last 100m to catch and beat the front-running favourite LA'S DANCER by a nose.
Watching him smile and flipping his whip en route to the winners' enclosure, he truly enjoys winning races in this manner. Indeed, he has been called Cutthroat Dane' and 'Wicked Man' in some quarters.
After parting company with champion trainer Wayne DaCosta by mutual agreement in the summer, his flow of winners not surprisingly dried up for a while, but he soon regained his momentum, riding winners for a number of trainers.
They include 14-time champion Philip Feanny and more recently, Anthony 'Baba' Nunes. It could be said that Nelson is now the 'unofficial' stable jockey for the powerful Nunes stables.
His success as a jockey has a lot to do with his genes. Nelson was destined to ride horses, coming from a family that has produced seven jockeys before him.
Veteran lightweight jockey Robert Reid, who rode two winners on Wednesday, along with his brother Richard Reid, are his uncles on his mother's side. And 'Hall of Famer' Donald Andrade, the top-flight jockey of the late '60s and early '70s, is an uncle on his father's side.
That makes Andrade's sons, Alton and Boyd, both of whom were top apprentices in the late '70s, his relatives, as well as journeyman jockey Crompton 'Crampy' Andrade.
To cap it all, the 1960 champion jockey Horatio 'Mussu' Nelson is a grandfather on his father's side. Dane's father is Robert Nelson, who trained horses at Caymanas Park in the late '90s before migrating to the US.
Ever mindful of the pitfalls in racing - greed, drug addiction, weight problems, injury and just plain bad luck - Nelson says he will continue to keep on the straight and narrow path.
"I love to ride horses," he said."It was always my dream to become a jockey. Now that I have established myself among the top riders in Jamaica, I would do nothing bad to jeopardise that," he added.
He has long recognised that the road to success is not paved with good intentions. From his experience, it is a bumpy road which can only be overcome by application and dedication.
"I will continue the hard work in the months ahead," he promised. "My goal is to become champion jockey one day and if that eludes me this year, there's always next year," concluded Nelson, who was taught horsemanship and riding techniques by the legendary jockey, George HoSang, while attending the Jockeys' School for most of 2002.
His batchmates included Paul 'Country' Francis and Oniel Mullings, both of whom have established themselves as top riders at Caymanas Park as well. To date, Nelson has ridden 264 winners.