‘Day’ to remember: Jockey a true winner
Posted: Saturday, September 18, 2010 8:52 am
By: By GLENDA CAUDLE
The Messenger 09.17.10
By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
It was a match made in heaven: horse racing and witnessing to the saving power of Jesus Christ in his life.
America’s most famous jockey, Patrick Alan “Pat” Day, put it all together for his audience at Thursday night’s Obion County Distinguished Speaker Foundation banquet, revealing how the two seemingly disparate pursuits have actually blended perfectly in his own life.
Day, who started in 41,000 races in his career and rode 8,804 winners, with an astounding 20-plus percentage win record, was the speaker at Hampton Centré for the eagerly-anticipated event.
Those who came to hear tales of triumph on horseback had the added bonus of hearing a message of true triumph in life. Day, who once claimed eight of nine mounts in a single day at Arlington Park and set a North American record for jockeys, in addition to numerous other accolades and prizes, made it clear his first interest was in telling people what his relationship with God has meant in his life.
The man who was named winner of the Mike Venezia Memorial Award for “extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship” has devoted himself to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ since his life was transformed in a hotel room June 27, 1984. A successful jockey already at that point, Day, who was raised in a Christian home in a small town in Colorado, said through the early years of racetrack glory, he turned away from the religious heritage of his family and community and sought happiness in what the world had to offer. During that time, drugs and alcohol were also introducing their brand of delusional success into his life and laying firm and dangerous hold on his affections.
He was delivered from the power of the threatening twins and recognized the gift not only of that freedom but of new and eternal life in Christ while hearing the message of a television evangelist one solitary night in a hotel room.
“On that night, I took myself off the throne of my heart and let the Lord Jesus take His place there. When I walked out of that room, it was a new world — but the world hadn’t really changed. I had,” Day said.
The four-time winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey said his racing background was unusual, beginning, as it did, with high school wrestling matches — “my success was actually minimal, but it did teach me how to fall” — and progressing to riding bulls with the aim of making a career in that arena.
Through those experiences, he met people who were familiar with the world of horse racing and they encouraged him, because of his slight stature, strength and earlier experiences, to enter the world of horse racing. His earliest advisors in that endeavor made it clear his rise to riding around a race track would be preceded by years of hard work in other preparation venues. That was in 1972. Discouraged that achieving his dream would take so long, Day considered returning to bull riding, but within a year, he found himself astride a horse that was ready to run and he claimed his first race.
“I was an absolute natural for it,” he says in explaining how he short-circuited the normal jockey-training regimen.
“Unfortunately, that success went to my head. I became arrogant and big-headed. Then I crashed and burned, although I was still successful on the race courses. I was unhappy inside.”
In 1982, after a hard-fought contest he claimed the national title in horse racing and he told himself he deserved to celebrate his achievement. Two weeks of drugging and drinking followed.
“I finally came out of that drug-induced stupor and realized the win had not satisfied.”
In 1983, he repeated his riding feat and came up empty again in his personal life.
Six months later, he found what he was searching for.
Soon thereafter, a tug of war began in his heart and mind between his new life in Christ and the atmosphere of gambling that was central to the horse-racing circuit where he had found repeated worldly success.
Day shared his concerns about whether he should abandon the race track to pursue some totally new and Christ-centered work with trusted spiritual advisors. Through prayer and Bible study, Day and his Christian mentors came to realize God intended to use him within the racing industry itself — a place where he was perfectly positioned to serve. It was in the familiar world of racing that God wanted Pat Day to tell others of Christ and His power to redeem and transform lives.
The jockey became part of the race horse chaplaincy program and began to “ride for Lord Jesus.”
“As I read and studied and meditated and applied the spiritual principles I was discovering, I realized I was where God would have me be and I was doing what He would have me do. Everything was going to work out for my good and His glory,” Day said Thursday night. “There is no joy in life like leading someone to a knowledge of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. In years to come, no one will remember me or recall the races I won, but those to whom I’ve been able to tell the story of Jesus, they’ll be running and romping on streets of gold.”
The Kentucky Derby winner clearly sees the whole world as his mission field, and made use of his opportunity to tell his story, relate it to scripture and offer his Thursday night audience the opportunity to respond themselves.
Only God knows how the heartfelt and life-challenging message of a man who is small in stature, a giant in the world of racing and the redeemed son of the God of the Universe was received and what its ultimate effect will be.
Day doesn’t worry about that.
He just keeps his eye on the eternal prize.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted by glendacaudle @ucmessenger.com.