Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers, and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the 147th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Kendrick Carmouche, one of the few prominent African-American jockeys in the country, is featured this week. The native of Vinton, La., began his career in 2000. He is 37 years old and a member of the Hall of Fame at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa. He owns more than 3,300 victories and now rides year-round on the New York circuit.
His time on the track illustrates how difficult it can be to reach the Kentucky Derby. He is scheduled to compete in the run for the roses for the first time after guiding 72.25-1 longshot Bourbonic from last to first in the April 3 Wood Memorial Stakes presented by Resorts World Casino for Calumet Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher.
PEDULLA: You suffered a severely fractured right femur in a riding accident at Kentucky Downs in September of 2018 that required a six-month recuperation. Does that seem a long time ago now?
CARMOUCHE: It does, but I don’t look at the past. I only look at the present and the future.
PEDULLA: You’ve made quite a comeback. Is it possible that accident made you even stronger and more determined?
CARMOUCHE: It made me stronger and even more into my family. They did so much in caring for me during the six months I was off. It made me want to get back to fighting for them even harder.
PEDULLA: I believe you refused painkillers after the first five days. Why was that?
CARMOUCHE: Not everything is for everybody. I wanted my body to feel the shock of what happened. I just wanted to be as natural about it as I could.
PEDULLA: You won your first New York riding title when you captured the fall meet at Aqueduct this past December. What did that mean to you?
CARMOUCHE: I won titles at Parx, but this was a totally different feeling. This is like a Grammy Award, I’m guessing.
PEDULLA: Nothing against Parx, but did the New York title feel like a big-time achievement?
CARMOUCHE: Parx was my home. I have my friends and my people there, but this is the major leagues.
CARMOUCHE: It was a weight off my shoulders. I could breathe a little bit better. It gave me an opportunity to ride for more trainers and bigger owners.
PEDULLA: Do you feel that you’ve raised your game a level?
CARMOUCHE: I think the horses I get on raised their game. I’m locked in at this point. I want to take this opportunity as far as I can take it. That is the way I look at it.
PEDULLA: Assuming Bourbonic stays on course, what does it mean to be going to your first Derby?
CARMOUCHE: It means the world to me. It’s my dream come true. It was just patience, hard work, and God. God means everything to me and my family and my life.
PEDULLA: Bourbonic was 72-1 when he went to the starting gate for the Wood. What did you think?
CARMOUCHE: I’ve got a Hall of Fame trainer, Todd Pletcher. You’ve got to have confidence going into the race. I just put that in my head. I loved the horse. I just had to ride my race and get the horse to give me 1,000%.
PEDULLA: How does Bourbonic need to be ridden?
CARMOUCHE: In these types of races, you look to get position and sit behind the speed and go from there. When he’s ready to run, he lets you know.
PEDULLA: Do you expect to be nervous before the Derby?
CARMOUCHE: I’m nervous now because I want to do my best.
PEDULLA: Had you started to wonder if this opportunity was ever going to come?
CARMOUCHE: No, not at all. You just stay in the motion of things. If it’s going to come, it’s going to come. If it’s not, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got to make the best of what you have.
PEDULLA: Bourbonic will again be a longshot in the Derby. How do you react to that?
CARMOUCHE: That don’t bother me. That’s for the people, not for me. My mind is still the same. I think I have the best horse. I think my horse is going to run good for me. I’m with Todd Pletcher and Calumet Farm. I’ve got everything going in the right direction. The horse has got to be healthy and happy for Kentucky Derby day. The horse has got to run his race and we go from there.
PEDULLA: We have not had African-American jockeys in the Derby in recent years. Do you think about that aspect at all?
CARMOUCHE: I think about getting to this part in my career. It just goes to show you if you work hard and respect everybody, you can be at any level you want, no matter what color you are.
PEDULLA: Do you feel that you can win the Derby?
CARMOUCHE: Oh, yes sir. I feel I am going there to win it. I really do. When I go to Belmont on Thursday, I feel I’m going to win every race. I try to win every race. I feel Todd Pletcher is putting me in position to win the Kentucky Derby.