Perry Wayne Ouzts has won more than 7,000 races since he began his career as a professional jockey in 1973, earning his first win in March of that year at Beulah Park. He ranks seventh all time among North American jockeys by victories with 7,081 behind five U.S. Racing Hall of Famers and one member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
As Ouzts nears his 66th birthday on July 7, one might think the Lepanto, Ark. native would be coasting toward retirement. Well, fans of the rider nicknamed the “Workingman’s Hero” and “Ironman” surely knew better.
Ouzts rode five winners on June 25 on an eight-race card at Belterra Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, winning three straight from the second through the fourth race, including a $19.20 winner in Drama Run in Race 3 and $56.40 winner My Pal Dal in Race 4. Ouzts, whose unique riding style is called “Scoot N’ Boot,” added wins in Race 6 on Northern Journey and Race 7 aboard Aiken for Gold to cap a banner day.
Ouzts, who comes from a prolific racing family including cousins Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires and Jackie Fires, was given an assignment in fifth grade to write about what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“Well, this is the first year when my cousin Earlie — when he started riding. This is 1965.” Ouzts said in a National Public Radio interview in April. “And I got to hear the stories about him and stuff, and I got to thinking, ‘Well, that would be a really cool job,’ because I liked horses already. I was small. And that’s what I wrote about: I wanted to be a jockey.”
Shortly after he graduated from high school, his cousins invited him to Chicago and offered to teach him the ropes and Ouzts arrived the very next day. He has dedicated his life to the sport since that day and overcome plenty of adversity along the way.
Ouzts was in a bad fall at Turfway Park in January 2006 that left him with a broken right arm and four fractured and one crushed vertebrae that nearly cost him his career. Three surgeries and 11 months of rehabilitation later, Ouzts returned to the saddle in a remarkable comeback that allowed him to reach his milestone 5,000th career win Aug. 21, 2007, at River Downs aboard Kandinsky.
He won his 6,000th career race Sept. 29, 2012, when he rode Tanner Me Boy to a two-length win at Turfway Park, and Ouzts reached the 7,000-win plateau Sept. 21, 2018, when he guided Emmy’s Candy to victory at Belterra.
So as “Ironman” Ouzts nears his 66th birthday, a time when most people are looking forward to a life of leisure, the Arkansas native showed again on Thursday that he’s not ready to hang it up. The final chapter for Perry Ouzts has not yet be written.
“Even after 47 years, I still get that same thrill,” Ouzts told NPR in the April interview. “Even, like, the first day that I started riding. I get that thrill every time I win. I mean, it’s just unbelievable.”