Rocco Rides 1000th Winner at Gulfstream Park
Joe Rocco Jr. rode his 1,000th winner aboard Rustler Hustler in Thursday’s ninth race at Gulfstream Park, where he returned to the winner’s circle to celebrate his career milestone with his family.
“I’m a little embarrassed that it’s taken me that long because I’ve been riding so long,” said Rocco, who rode his first winner at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 2, 1999 aboard his very first mount, Rainbow’s Raja. “But it does mean a lot.”
Although he was hardly reveling in his achievement, it clearly meant a lot to the subdued 30-year-old jockey to share the moment with his wife, Jamie, and two sons, Brodie, 4, and Luke, 1.
“I stood in my own way for so long. At the time, I didn’t realize it. Looking back on it now, having grown up and matured as a person, I can say now that I definitely stopped myself for at least the first five years of my career by making bad decisions,” Rocco said. “Since I’ve been with my wife and we’ve had kids, it makes you think differently and gives you a reason to go out and do it.”
Rocco, who also rode the winners of the first race (Go Go Lolo) and the 10th race (Success Rate), was also thinking of his father, who has been his lifelong inspiration. Joe Rocco, who was back home in Delaware, set a high standard for his son by riding 3,714 winners during a 34-year-old career that concluded in 2011.
“He’s everything. I grew up wanting to be just like him,” said the younger Rocco, who had ridden on occasion against his father in the Mid-Atlantic region. “Being a jockey is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Rocco enjoyed a breakthrough meeting at Gulfstream Park last season. After capturing the 2011 riding title at Delaware Park with 94 wins, 20 more than his nearest rival, he opted to ride fulltime at Gulfstream for the first time, ranking seventh in the standings with 45 trips to the winner’s circle.
Rocco enjoyed the most productive year of his career last year, capping the 2012 season by finishing fourth during Churchill Downs’ fall meeting before returning to Gulfstream for the current meeting. He is planning on returning to Kentucky upon the conclusion of the Gulfstream meeting.
Rocco, who rode Hard Not to Like for a victory in the $100,000 Marshua’s River (G3) on Jan. 5, currently ranks sixth in the Gulfstream jockey’s standings with 21 wins.