Orville Clarke, Gleaner Writer
Having moved within striking distance of long-time leader Omar Walker, Dane Nelson believes he has a good chance of retaining the jockeys' championship he won for the first time in 2012 at Caymanas Park.
With Walker failing to ride a winner over the past three racedays, Nelson has made serious inroads into his lead which stood as high as 16 some months ago.
Thanks to a sparkling three-timer comprising ZEEVA, PAID OUR DUES and BORDER LINE last Saturday, Nelson (78 wins) is only six behind Walker, whose recent form is cause for concern among fans of the four-time champion.
Popularly called 'The Warrior Chief' owing to his aggressive style of riding, Nelson feels that with 18 racedays remaining this season, he still has enough time to overtake Walker and retain his title.
"I'm very fit and focused right now," he declared.
"Thanks to the work of my agent Bredda, I am not only getting good mounts but am riding with a lot of confidence. Being this close to Walker, I feel good about my chances", he added.
"I can understand what Omar is going through of late with the winners not coming as they used to. I also experienced a bad patch early in the year when the winners were few and far between.
"To make matters worse, a 10-day suspension and fine imposed by the stewards in February for not riding HOGANS HERO on its merits was hanging over my head.
"It was a frustrating period when nothing went right for me," he confessed. "However, I eventually won the appeal when the full commission reversed the decision of the stewards on March 21 and the monkey was off my back," he was quick to add.
Although closing in rapidly on Walker, Nelson is mindful that it's not over until the fat lady sings.
"Walker is a top-class jockey who knows what it takes to win the championship. I don't expect him to roll over and play dead for long. He's still a formidable opponent who I expect to put up a fight to regain the title he lost in 2012.
"However, the momentum is with me and if I can avoid suspension and remain injury free, I believe I can win it.
"But even if I don't win the title, I will not be hard on myself as this sort of competition is a good thing for racing," said Nelson who doubles as a music producer on the 'Warrior Chief' label.
He has worked with artistes of the calibre of I-Octane, Busy Signal, Munga and the young up and coming artiste Maestro Dan, as well as Freddie McGreggor's Big Ship outfit and his cousin 'Nuffy', among others.
Nelson confesses a profound love for reggae and dancehall music. Hence, his foray into producing for the past two years is not by accident.
He finds time to juggle race riding and music with great success. Early this month, Nelson took unto himself a bride - Caleisha Ferguson - at a ceremony in Kingston.
Now 29 and a father of two, Nelson has a more serious outlook on life. Gone are the happy go lucky days.
A 2002 graduate of the Jockeys' School along with Paul 'Country' Francis and Oneil Mullings, Nelson was destined to be a jockey, coming from a family that has produced seven jockeys before him.
Ace lightweight jockey Robert Reid and his brother Richard are his uncles on his mother's side. And Hall of Fame jockey Donald Andrade, a top-flight rider in the 60s and 70s, is an uncle on his father's side.
That makes Andrade's sons, Alton and Boyd, both top apprentices in the late 70s, his relatives, as well as journeyman jockey Compton 'Crampy' Andrade. To cap it all, former champion jockey Horatio 'Mussu' Nelson (1960) is his grandfather on his father's side. Dane's father is ex-trainer Robert Nelson.
A past student of Waterford High in Portmore, Dane rode his first winner, GUARDIAN ANGEL in January 2003, and has not looked back. To date, he has ridden 696 winners, including PITTACUS for trainer Anthony Nunes in the 2008 Superstakes.